MayoClinic.com defines hoarding as the excessive collection of objects or animals and the inability to part with them. Hoarders often do not recognize that they have a problem, even though their houses are sometimes so full of items that there is no living space. Intensive treatment is necessary to help these individuals live safer lives. Researchers have identified several possible neurological causes for why people become hoarders.
Hoarding and OCD
Hoarding has long been considered a type of obsessive compulsive disorder, according to MayoClinic.com. The National Institute of Mental Health explains that OCD is an anxiety disorder that leads to repetitive behaviors like washing hands, repeating phrases or counting objects in an effort to make unpleasant and unwanted thoughts go away. Some researchers consider the definition inaccurate, however. Dr. Sanjaya Saxena, a compulsive hoarding researcher, writes that enough research-backed evidence exists to place hoarding into a category of its own rather than as a subtype of obsessive compulsive disorder. Saxena explains that compulsive hoarders have lower metabolic functions in some areas of the brain than in others that did not always line up with the brain patterns seen in nonhoarding OCD patients. The Children of Hoarders website mentions that as of 2010 many researchers disagree with his opinions and more research is needed before this theory can be validated.
Information Processing Disorders
Compulsive hoarders often have difficulty processing information. The International OCD Foundation website explains that decision making is often difficult for hoarders. They often exhibit behaviors similar to attention deficit disorder. Neurological testing indicates that hoarders often try to sort items based upon visual recall, or remembering where the item was seen last, rather than thinking about a logical place where the object might be. They also demonstrate impulsive behavior and have difficulty paying attention to nonverbal stimuli. Their brain functions have a direct relationship to their ability to organize items. When they try to decide whether to keep or discard an item, they lose concentration, get overwhelmed and give up the task.
The International OCD Foundation explains that many people form strong emotional attachments to inanimate objects. Hoarding provides a sense of security for many people. Others feel that they are losing part of themselves if they have to part with even a useless object. Many people save items for sentimental reasons, while others worry that they will need the object at a future date. Some people feel guilty about getting rid of items that another person might be able to use. Finally, some people hoard simply because they like the look, shape or feel of certain objects.