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Breaking Point Happy Memories or Household Hazards?

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senior_safety.jpg​​​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. 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.  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  While the source of clutter can be anything from outdated medications to a kitchen full of unused pots and pans, paper is the biggest clutter culprit, Anderson said.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. 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.


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