Diogenes Syndrome: Symptoms, Treatment, and More

An extreme neglect of personal hygiene and the accumulation of useless objects and junk are the two symptoms that first come to mind when we think of Diogenes syndrome. However, it is a much deeper and more diverse ailment. Here we tell you what it is in detail.

Diogenes syndrome

The Diogenes syndrome is characterized by an attitude of material attachment presented by certain individuals. At first glance, it may seem like a “mania” or a reluctance to discard those useless objects, but in the background there is an emotional imbalance that may be the real culprit of this lifestyle.

Sometimes the syndrome reaches extremes that border on disconnection with the world and the diagnosis is transformed into frontotemporal dementia or other types of mental disorders, such as diagnoses related to personality disorders, affective disorders or schizophrenia.

Before making any diagnosis, it is necessary to inquire about the emotional characteristics of the individual in order to recognize the set of symptoms they present and to be able to diagnose the disorder accurately.

Symptoms and typology of Diogenes Syndrome

It is important to point out that Diogenes syndrome is characterized by a gradual presentation of symptoms; that is to say, they begin manifesting themselves as subtle changes in behavior, but increase as the obsession does. In fact, in most cases, when the diagnosis is made, the pathology is already very advanced.

Diogenes Syndrome

Symptoms

Among the most frequent symptoms are neglect of personal hygiene, food and health, obsessive attitudes such as piling up garbage and useless objects, neglect of their own health, antisocial behavior (which can range from simple detachment to social isolation) and lack of awareness of the problem, i.e. they are not able to understand that their lifestyle is detrimental to their health.

Typology

There are two names for Diogenes syndrome depending on the stage at which it is detected:

The active Diogenes syndrome: the sufferer actively goes out looking for garbage and objects that he does not need to pile them up in his home.

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Passive Diogenes syndrome: the accumulation occurs by chance, as a result of a lack of interest in order and hygiene, which leads to an accumulation. The objects and garbage that the person generates invade the space of the person suffering from the disorder without him knowing how to stop it.

It should be noted that the first studies in which this disorder was recorded date from the seventies, and at that time, it was believed that it was an ailment of old age. This is due to the fact that most people diagnosed with Diogenes syndrome have an average age of 70 years.

Based on this evidence, some coincidences were established between this pathology and senility. However, they have had to be discarded in the face of new cases and studies that have shown that the lack of previous diagnosis has to do with the way in which the disorder presents itself: where the obsession may go unnoticed at first, and when the case reaches the consultation of a specialist, the picture is already quite advanced, and also the age of the patients.

At present, although the clinical information that exists regarding this disorder is quite vague, it has been possible to establish the characteristics of this symptomatology in order to look for clues that help prevent disconnection with reality and allow us to arrive at solutions before cases become severe.

The characteristics to take into account when assessing a possible Diogenes syndrome are the following:

  • The person lives in self-imposed social isolation and seclusion.
  • There is a significant neglect of personal hygiene and their environment (home, clothes, and personal belongings).
  • They live in conditions of absolute austerity bordering on extreme poverty. These conditions are not imposed by adverse economic circumstances, but by thinking that they lack economic resources. In some cases, the person suffering from this syndrome has large sums of money at home or in the bank without being aware of the amount accumulated.
  • The belief that they live in extreme poverty leads them to accumulate a large number of objects that are useless to them.
  • They are not aware of the situation in which they live, nor of the unhealthy consequences and dangers generated by their lifestyle.
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Origins: Diogenes in Greek Mythology

Diogenes the Cynic or Diogenes of Sinope are the two names given to the Greek philosopher whose lifestyle was taken as a starting point by science to name the disorder we are developing here.

Diogenes lived around 412 B.C., and although he is known to have set an example and led a lifestyle of extreme austerity, he left no written record of his ideas. In fact, his name passed to posterity thanks to Diogenes Laertius, who, in his book Lives, Opinions and Sentences of the Most Illustrious Philosophers, included him as one of the referents of the Cynic school to which he belonged.

He was the son of a banker who was dedicated to making counterfeit coins, whom he helped in his work. When they were discovered by justice, father and son were banished and Diogenes, after wandering through many places, arrived in Athens.

There he joined the school of Antisthenes, who was a disciple of Socrates, and began to practice extreme asceticism. He lived in a jar and rejected all material comfort, directing his life to the contemplation of nature and thought.

His ideal was to live self-sufficiently, leaving behind all material needs that would keep him from independence. Some scholars believe that this ideal had arisen much earlier and that falsification had been the beginning: an attempt to discredit the value of worldly riches.

The life of Diogenes consisted of abandoning all luxury to connect with nature, an interesting ideal pulsed by a deep philosophy of life. The reading, however, that has been made from the field of science about this lifestyle has collaborated with the ridicule and stigmatization of the frugal life.

We should not confuse the history and ideals of Diogenes with the disorder that bears his name, although they are obviously related. While in the former there is a vital search and a philosophical life experience, in the latter we are dealing with people who, due to certain etiological experiences or conditions, have developed an obsessive disorder that affects their freedom and happiness.

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Treatment methods for Diogenes syndrome

Diogenes syndrome is a difficult and complex disorder to treat, since its causes are not always known. In fact, there are contradictory discussions and points of view on the subject in the Academy.

Some authors argue that this syndrome is the outcome of personality disorders not detected in time. They identify it as the final stage of a disorder of this type, because it shares features with schizoid or paranoid personality disorders.

Others are of the opinion that it corresponds to etiological factors and focus on a strictly chemical treatment.

At present, however, research is being carried out on the basis of frontal lobe dysfunctions, which are present in almost all diagnosed patients, and treatment is being sought from various approaches.

In order to treat this condition, therefore, interdisciplinary work is required. Treatment is complex and requires multidisciplinary intervention. This means that while mood stabilizers and antipsychotics can help to treat the etiological root problems, social therapy also becomes necessary, so that the individual can redirect his behavior towards a healthy form of interaction and well-being.

The goal of treatment is to encourage self-care habits and to decrease the individual’s aggressiveness or antisocial behavior. Likewise, we try to collaborate with the affective bond and seek to influence them to improve empathy with respect to other people and their environment, which collaborates with their social perception and brings very positive effects on moving forward.

The Diogenes syndrome, which at first sight seems to be a pathology related to poverty, is becoming more and more frequent in our society, so it is important to be attentive in order to detect it in time in our closest environment and thus prevent it from reaching extremes that are more difficult to treat.

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