The person with Diogenes syndrome accumulates objects to the point of putting their health and living conditions at risk. We tell you more about it.
We have all kept clothes that are no longer useful at times, as well as old magazines and worthless objects, in case we need them again in the future. However, these isolated events become a way of life that has serious repercussions in a person with Diogenes syndrome.
We are talking about a disorder in which the individual accumulates objects, remains and waste at home, being unable to get rid of them. Lots of unusable elements are spread throughout the home, preventing it from being used properly and favouring dangerous, unhealthy conditions. How can this happen?
What are the causes of Diogenes syndrome?
The causes of this disorder are not clear. However, it tends to occur more frequently in people who live in isolation and experience chronic loneliness. Also, it is common for a stressful event to take place that triggers the onset of symptoms.
Rigid thoughts also play an important role. These individuals feel deep insecurity and fear of being rejected. For this reason, they maintain the belief that social relationships are not safe and try to fill that emotional void with material elements.
In addition, they tend to hold ideas related to the fear of poverty, lack and poor decision-making. Therefore, they keep the objects to make sure they have them, in the case in a possible and hypothetical future they were necessary.
In the elderly who live alone, the syndrome is more common.
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Among the characteristics of this syndrome, the main aspect is the accumulation of a huge amount of belongings with no real value that the person cannot get rid of. But in reality, it is usually a process closely related to self-abandonment, and that goes through different phases.
Thus, people with Diogenes syndrome keep scraps and waste out of sheer neglect. Later, as these increase in quantity, they begin to order them in their own random way. Finally, not only do you keep what you own, but you also go out to find other objects.
All of the above leads to abandonment in which health, as well as the appearance and environmental conditions, are neglected. Thus, serious problems arise from poor diet and lack of hygiene.
Also, difficulties are often experienced in the few social relationships that are maintained. And it is that the careless appearance of these people usually causes rejection in others.
As the syndrome progresses, housing conditions become unsustainable. Clothes, newspapers, and gadgets spread everywhere, preventing access to essential places, such as the kitchen, the bathroom or the bed.
Bad odours, dirt and even animal pests become a permanent part of the home, making it uninhabitable and creating problems with neighbourhood coexistence.
How to help a person with Diogenes syndrome?
The person with Diogenes syndrome has a difficult pathology to address because they cannot perceive the seriousness of the situation. For this reason, they do not seek professional help. Thus, it is essential, first of all, to make the patient aware of his problem. In addition, it is necessary to work on various fronts:
- Carry out psychoeducation regarding the disorder, explaining what it is and why it occurs.
- Act on health problems that have arisen.
- Clean and disinfect the home thoroughly.
- Modify dysfunctional thoughts about poverty, deprivation, and personal relationships.
- Restore social skills and active participation in society. It is especially important to involve family members and those closest to them so that they understand and support the process.
Risk factors for a person suffering from Diogenes syndrome
It must be taken into account that certain factors increase the probability that a person suffers from Diogenes syndrome. Knowing them helps us to stay alert and detect possible cases in our environment.
This syndrome usually occurs in people over 65 years of age. The elderly are a critical stage due to retirement changes (loss of social status). But also to the greater tendency to loneliness, which worsens in the event of the death of the spouse.
People who are withdrawn, hostile, sullen, and have difficulties relating to relationships are more likely to suffer from the syndrome. In addition, characteristics such as perfectionism and psychological rigidity increase the risk.
Anxiety disorders are a risk factor for Diogenes syndrome, as well as depression.
Finally, it is common for many people who end up suffering from Diogenes syndrome to have previous pathologies. Personality disorders, anxiety problems, psychosis, dementia and addictions are some of the most associated.
The person with Diogenes syndrome needs help from others.
In short, it is a disorder that is usually not detected until years after it has started. At that time, the consequences are more severe, and the possibilities of intervention are complicated. This is why prevention and interdisciplinary intervention are so important.
If you detect that someone meets the risk criteria or shows behaviours compatible with the above, stay alert in your immediate environment. Simply visiting the person regularly can prevent the syndrome from progressing. And, in case of need, resort to the relevant public services.
In the first instance, the treatment for these people is aimed at treating possible complications derived from poor nutritional and hygienic status. However, immediately afterwards, it is necessary to establish preventive measures so that the picture does not repeat itself. This requires sufficient social support or home care and avoiding hospitalization.
The problem is that those affected themselves often reject social assistance. If they are not incapacitated due to some basic psychiatric pathology or dementia, they cannot be admitted without their consent, so they end up returning to their previous type of life.
It usually occurs in the elderly with a certain tendency to isolation, although other stressors of late age also intervene, such as financial difficulties or the death of a relative, and above all, loneliness.
The socioeconomic position does not protect from its appearance, since there are cases of people who suffered from the syndrome who had university degrees, with a high economic level and brilliant professional careers.
Advice to families
Family members should monitor their mayor s living alone, especially if they have observed any risk factors, like a sullen behaviour or voluntary isolation.
However, it is often difficult to help them since they are the ones who avoid all kinds of attention. This makes it sometimes even debate whether it is really a disease or just a lifestyle.