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Happy Memories Or Household Hazards?

Originally Posted: April 14, 2010


Tracy Zaweski offers some important advice for seniors. (Home Instead Senior Care)

Southampton - While clutter is not a problem unique to seniors, conditions of aging including strokes, brain trauma and dementia can lead to disorder and chaos that could threaten seniors' home safety and independence, experts say. It's a problem all too familiar to family caregivers.

"A lifetime accumulation of possessions combined with an influx of daily junk mail, bills, newspapers and magazines can quickly overwhelm seniors who are struggling physically, mentally or emotionally," says Tracy Zaweski, owner of the local Home Instead Senior Care franchise office serving the Hamptons and the South Fork area.

Experts say even seniors who simply don't know how to part with their possessions are vulnerable. The risks are many from slipping on loose papers to the threat of fire to the health effects of mold and mildew. Clutter can also interfere with family relationships and leave adult children wondering if the only inheritance awaiting them is a big mess.

"Spring is a great time for family caregivers to help seniors de-clutter for their own health and well-being," Zaweski said.

"Cluttering - for those with this tendency - probably has been happening for years, but a 'trigger episode' such as going into a wheelchair or a health issue could worsen the problem," said Katherine "Kit" Anderson, CPO-CD, president of the non-profit National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (NSGCD) and a certified professional organizer. While the source of clutter can be anything from outdated medications to a kitchen full of unused pots and pans, paper is the biggest clutter culprit, Anderson said.

"It's sort of the elephant in the room," added Dr. Catherine Roster, a University of New Mexico clutter researcher. "People don't want to acknowledge there is a problem, which creates an underlying anxiety, stress, guilt or embarrassment that can have a negative effect on their mental health and productivity. There are a lot of issues including economics. When there is general disorganization, people lose important documents and can't find bills and then miss payments. So some serious issues start affecting them. All the research shows that people are slow to recognize the problem."

In order to identify potential trouble, the Home Instead Senior Care network is alerting family caregivers to watch for the signs in a senior's home that indicate clutter creep could become a problem including piles of mail and unpaid bills, difficulty walking safely through a home and frustration on the part of a senior trying to organize.

"Family caregivers can become just as overwhelmed as seniors," said Home Instead Senior Care's Zaweski. "We suggest a three-step plan where the family caregiver brings three bins - one for the stuff the senior wants to keep, one for donations and the other for trash. Sometimes seniors just need a little help."

10 Reasons Seniors Hang On To Stuff And What To Do About It
Following, from Home Instead Senior Care and Vickie Dellaquila, certified professional organizer and author of "Don't Toss My Memories in the Trash," are 10 reasons seniors can't or won't give up their stuff and what to do about it.

1. The sentimental attachment. The beloved prom dress represents the history and memories of the event; it's not the dress itself. Save only a piece of the dress to make a quilt or display in a shadow box. Scrapbooking and converting photos to DVDs are other ways to save treasured keepsakes without all the extra mess.

2. The sense of loyalty. Older adults who've received gifts from family and friends may be reluctant to part with them. Encourage your loved one to give unused gifts back to the giver or grandchildren.

3. The need to conserve. Seniors are the original green people. Appeal to a senior's desire to help others. Counter a senior's inclination to conserve by appealing to their desire to give back.

4. The fatigue. A home with a lifetime of memories can easily become too much for an older adult to handle. Help seniors manage clutter by establishing online bill paying. Also, get your senior off junk mail lists, which can put them at risk of identity theft, and buy them a shredder.

5. The change in health. Seniors who have suffered a brain trauma or stroke, who are wheelchair bound or who are experiencing dementia may no longer be able to manage household duties, which could contribute to clutter. If you see a health change, encourage your senior to visit his or her doctor and consider a professional organizer and caregiver to help your loved one.

6. The fear. Seniors often fear what will happen if they give up their stuff, like the older adult who saved three generations of bank statements. Use logic and information to help seniors understand it's O.K. to let go.

7. The dream of the future. Those clothes in the closet don't fit anymore, but your loved one is sure that some day she'll lose enough weight to get into them. Ask seniors to fill a box with clothing they don't wear much and make a list of the items in the box. Agree that if they have not gone back to the box in six months to wear the item, they will donate that to charity.

8. The love of shopping. Today's seniors have more money than any other previous generation of older adults and they love to shop. Clutter can become so bad seniors can't find things and they repurchase items they already have, contributing to the clutter cycle. Try to convince seniors to cut back and to say "no" to free stuff.

9. The history and memories. Keepsakes represent history and memories. Encourage seniors to take old photos to a family reunion and share with several generations. Let seniors know they can contribute to the history of their time and leave a lasting legacy by donating to museums and historical societies, a theater and library, or churches and synagogues.

10. The loneliness. Stuff can become a misplaced companion. Loneliness may also lead to depression, which makes it difficult for seniors to get organized. Consider the services of a professional organizer and caregiver.

For more information, go to the National Association of Professional Organizers at www.napo.net, or visit www.homeinstead.com. For tips on talking to a loved one about sensitive subjects, go to www.4070talk.comt.

Other experts contributing to these tips include Katherine "Kit" Anderson, CPO-CD, president of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization; University of Kansas Professor Dr. David Ekerdt, who is coordinating a "household moves" project to determine the role that possessions play in older people's housing decisions; and University of New Mexico Researcher Dr. Catherine Roster.

A Caregiver's Guide To Spot Clutter Creep
If you notice these characteristics about your senior loved ones or their homes,
clutter could start creeping up on them.

1. Piles of mail and unpaid bills.
2. Difficulty walking safely through a home.
3. Frustration trying to organize.
4. Difficulty managing activities of daily living.
5. Expired food in the refrigerator.
6. Jammed closets and drawers.
7. Compulsive shopping.
8. Difficulty deciding whether to discard items.
9. A health episode such as a stroke or dementia.
10. Loneliness.

If Your Senior Won't Let Go
Getting rid of stuff is actually a two-step process: sorting and deciding, on the one hand, and disposing on the other. That's according to University of Kansas Professor Dr. David Ekerdt, who is coordinating a "household moves" project to determine the role that possessions play in older people's housing decisions. But convincing seniors can be a challenge.

Following are strategies if your loved one doesn't want to let go from Katherine "Kit" Anderson, CPO-CD, president of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (NSGCD), and Vickie Dellaquila, certified professional organizer and author of "Don't Toss My Memories in the Trash."

1. Arrange and cheer small victories. Suppose you spend a short time helping your loved one clear off a table. Celebrate the accomplishment together.

2. Conduct an "experiment." If your senior has 150 empty margarine tub containers, suggest donating 15 of those to a school for a painting project. Allow some time to go by and ask how she felt giving those up. Chances are she won't feel as awful as suspected.

3. Gently approach the idea of health and safety. Remind your loved ones that too much clutter can actually keep them from being safe in their homes, which could jeopardize their ability to stay at home. They could trip over papers on the floor or lose bills and medications.

4. Draft an agreement. Agree to box up unused clothing or tools. Carefully list what's in the box and track that for six months. If your loved one does not use the items in that time, suggest they donate them to a charity.

5. Consider the control issue. Clutter is all about control, but so is being the one to decide where stuff goes. Remind your loved ones if they don't decide where something will go, someone else will.

About Home Instead Senior Care
Founded in 1994, the Home Instead Senior Care® network is the world's largest provider of non-medical in-home care services for seniors, with more than 875 independently owned and operated franchises in 15 countries and 16 markets, spanning four continents. Home Instead Senior Care local offices employ 65,000+ CAREGivers who provide more than 40 million hours of client service each year through activities including companionship, meal preparation, medication reminders, light housekeeping, errands and shopping. Home Instead Senior Care founders Paul and Lori Hogan pioneered franchising in the non-medical senior care industry and are leading advocates for senior issues in America. At Home Instead Senior Care, it's relationship before task, while continuing to provide superior quality service that enhances the lives of seniors everywhere.




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Guest (Bob Strong) from Texas says::
This article has inspired me to help clean out my neighbors house. It is so crammed with stuff that they can barely get around. As you mentioned in "1. The sentimental attachment", the biggest issue is finding ways to help them get rid of items that are filled with old memories. The suggestions of just keeping a piece of the original wedding dress is a perfect example of cutting back.
May 7, 2014 11:55 am

 

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