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First New Zealand study of pathological hoarding

Christchurch campus

Monday, 6 November 2017 11:46am

UniversityofOtagoChristchurchimage
New research from the University of Otago Christchurch gives insight into hoarding behaviour in New Zealand.

An estimated 35,000 New Zealanders have clinically severe hoarding behaviour, according to the country’s first snapshot of the debilitating mental illness. A further 56,000 people are likely to have sub-clinical hoarding behaviours that could later develop into a diagnosable condition.

Those with clinically severe hoarding are more likely to be single (70 per cent of hoarders), female (80%), clinically depressed (50%), unemployed (40%), or receiving some form of income support (70%).

The findings come from a University of Otago, Christchurch research project on ageing called the Canterbury Health Ageing and Lifecourse (CHALICE) study. In the CHALICE study, 404 Canterbury residents aged 50 were chosen at random from the electoral role to take part in a half-day of assessments, including a psychological assessment for mental health issues such as hoarding.

CHALICE researchers found 2.5 per cent of study participants met the clinical criteria for pathological hoarding. A further 4% had sub-clinical hoarding issues. While hoarding can begin in adolescence, it is known to worsen with age for some people. At the last census there were 1.4 million New Zealand residents over the age of 50, and 2.5% of this group is 35,000.

Janet-Spittlehousesmall
Dr Janet Spittlehouse.

CHALICE researcher Dr Janet Spittlehouse says hoarding is a debilitating illness and causes significant distress. Severe hoarders tend to have a persistent and significant difficulty in throwing possessions away regardless of their value, and experience distress on doing so.

The living areas of hoarders tend to be so cluttered they can no longer be used for their intended purpose. These people often experience significant personal distress or impairment because of their condition.

Spittlehouse says people in the study who exhibited severe clinical hoarding behaviour described themselves as anxious, fearful, timid and easily fatigued. They said they had problems with decision making and inattention.

For people over 40 years clinically significant hoarding behaviours can be associated with loss and stress, she says. Experiences of loss, such as loss of a spouse or loss of a career through retirement are more likely as people age.

If you are interested in interviewing Dr Spittlehouse, please send a request to Kim Thomas, Communications Manager on kim.thomas@otago.ac.nz.

A list of Otago experts available for media comment is available elsewhere on this website.

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