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Forums / Supporting family and friends with a mental health condition (carers) / Helping my 73yo Dad with possible Diogenes Syndrome (Living in filth with a bit of hoarding)

Topic: Helping my 73yo Dad with possible Diogenes Syndrome (Living in filth with a bit of hoarding)

7 posts, 0 answered
  1. BluePoppy
    BluePoppy avatar
    3 posts
    6 June 2021

    Dad is 73 yo Viet Vet w depression, anxiety & chronic pain. He lives on his own in our rental property. We’ve noticed he makes excuses for us to not go over there, or get beyond the front door. He comes to our place for dinners (weekly/fortnightly). We knew he had clutter & was having trouble with housework, but we were oblivious to the real problems. He has refused to get a cleaner so assumed he was ok.

    A few days ago he had a leaky shower. Our plumber couldn’t get there, so hubby went to look at it. I went to measure a few things, because we’re planning on selling the place soon. We were completely shocked by the filth. The clutter we knew was there - not quite as bad as hoarders you see on tv, but bad enough. The floors were really filthy. The kitchen floor full of old food spills. The place full of mould & his bed sheets hadn’t been changed in years - there was mould & cobwebs on his pillows. I felt sick. We didn’t say much to Dad, I measured, my hubby fixed the taps & we headed off to our next stop, telling Dad we’d see him next weekend. I don’t know if Dad even realises just how bad his house is.

    Dad went into a bit of a panic when we told him a few weeks ago that we’d decided to sell, so we’ve since made a plan to build a cottage on our property for him. He’s been involved in the design of it & we’ve started the process with the builder. It is a much smaller place than he’s in right now & he agrees, he has a lot of stuff to sort through. But, he just wants to put it in storage for now to sort later.

    We would like to help him in any way we can. This cottage will be brand new, so we’re going to start off on the right foot with him & have our cleaner who comes weekly to clean his place for him. We’ll change/wash his bed sheets every weekend, so he doesn’t end up living in that filthy state again. He is such a proud man; I’m certain he’s embarrassed.

    Does anyone have any advice or stories to share that would be helpful in trying to help him & make the transition smooth, without literally freaking him out. We want to buy him a new fridge & bed, because his are literally covered in mould, but I want to handle it all delicately.

    I’ve been reading this isn’t as straight forward as moving him to a new place with new stuff. We can see now that this has been going on for a while, but because he’s always clean when we see him, we simply had no idea! I feel that it has all just been brought on by physical incapacity through chronic pain & depression & anxiety.

  2. Croix
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    Croix avatar
    10382 posts
    7 June 2021 in reply to BluePoppy

    Dear BluePoppy~

    Welcome here, it is a worrying situation and I'm glad you came.

    I guess I can almost understand your dad, I'm around the same age and have much the same sort of illnesses, though that was from being a policeman.

    One can know what is acceptable, and your dad, when he came to visit regularly would have presented as ok. Maybe pride did that, maybe any one of a number of things.

    Then there is "why bother", something that takes over when he is by himself and does not feel he has to put on the acceptable face. I had that for a while, though as I was living with a very caring partner things did not deteriorate around the house.

    At the time I felt it was just me and as a result not worth doing anything not absolutely essential, and that snowballs, it can start out just not washing up and putting everything away into not washing, not doing laundry and not even purchasing enough food. There are other complications too, particularly if in pain with limited movements or strong meds.

    Then it gets to the point where things are too far gone to fix, the mold, the floor, the laundry and so on. Then that leads to isolation as one does not want others to see the conditions inside.

    I'm not sure of easy answers, it may be he has not been under effective treatment for this mental and physical conditions, or maybe just the physical ones. Proper medical ongoing mental support is needed. I still have it, and it turned my life around.

    Getting your dad to seek this may be hard, and if you are not already familiar with it the Open Arms organisation (1800 011 046) may well be able to help, with information, counseling and referrals for individuals and their families

    https://www.openarms.gov.au/

    There are no doubt things that are extra important to your dad, everything from a worn knapsack to papers relating to claims, in-service matters and more. It might be hard to predict what is really significant

    How you approach your dad - as you obviously need to talk I'm not sure, however I would suppose your aim is to get him expert medical support, and ensure the things he needs for pride, and security and are part of himself do not get tucked away during the move

    I might suggest a respectful rather than scolding approach should be considered as pride may, like me, be integral to improvement.

    Sometimes talking with peers can be a help, does he have any contacts with those he served?

    Please let us know what you think, and do keep coming back to say how things are going

    Croix

  3. romantic_thi3f
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    romantic_thi3f avatar
    3085 posts
    8 June 2021 in reply to BluePoppy

    Hi BluePoppy,

    Welcome to the forums and thank you for joining us. Croix has given you some incredible support here so I'm not sure how much I can add.

    What I did want to ask though, is when you ask about the transition being smooth and not freaking out- what do you suppose will make him freak out? I ask this because everyone is so different. I was actually quite surprised to read that your Dad is okay with moving, as often 'hoarders' (or people with hoarder traits) tend to not want to move or move their things. I think that if I can have a better understanding of what might make him panic, I can try and help in making the transition smooth too.

    rt

  4. BluePoppy
    BluePoppy avatar
    3 posts
    28 June 2021 in reply to romantic_thi3f
    Thanks for your reply - I didn't realise it was here waiting for me! I appreciate you taking the time to respond to me. Dad isn't actually okay with moving, but he has no choice, as we own the house he lives in and we need to sell it for financial reasons. As for the freaking out - he has terrible anxiety and even the smallest of things at the moment are triggering to him, so I was looking for any advice/info/tips on making this transition smoother for him, so as not to freak him out aka trigger him too much. I know none of this is going to be easy, and that I'm going to need a lot of patience and compassion for him (which I do - we have a good relationship), but I'm just looking at ways that I can better help him.
  5. BluePoppy
    BluePoppy avatar
    3 posts
    28 June 2021 in reply to Croix
    Thanks Croix for your response, I appreciate the time you've taken. As you said a "respectful instead of scolding" approach is exactly what I'm trying to do for him, because no one wants to be "told off" at any age. He struggles to get anything done quickly ... and by that I man it can take him days or weeks to do something that would take a regular person 5 minutes to do. So, getting him packed and sorted is going to be quite a mission. He is seeing a psychologist thankfully. I think I just need to tread carefully and communicate well and with a huge amount of compassion.
  6. Croix
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    Croix avatar
    10382 posts
    28 June 2021 in reply to BluePoppy

    Dear BluePoppy~

    I think your dad is lucky to have you. I'm afraid the following are just guesses to consider

    Actually I have the feeling you are on the right path, getting him involved in the move, however not just where he will be living, but maybe seeking his opinions on matters to do with your part of the move, simply to get him to concentrate less on his own transfer.

    It may well be he has so much stuff he may feel it is all too hard, too large a job, and thus does not want to think about it. So the distraction. Plus of course getting him involved in the packing moving and even display of any few favorite objects or images he may have.

    At some stage I'd expect you will just have to swoop down and grab everything, consign some to storage and some to travel to the new place. The more he is concentrating on favorites and your move the less time he will have to fret over all the remainder.

    If in storage you can lay things out in such a way as any things he then decides are 'must haves' can easily be retrieved.

    Perhaps it may be he can worry about you and the effect the move will have on you may shift his focus and let him feel he is making a respected contribution..

    May I again suggest Open Arms -but for yourself and husband, they may have some ideas, you never know, and as far as I'm aware their services are free.

    You are right, a slow process, and with much understanding. I think he is in good hands.

    Croix

  7. romantic_thi3f
    Community Champion
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    romantic_thi3f avatar
    3085 posts
    30 June 2021 in reply to BluePoppy

    Hi BluePoppy,

    It's good to hear back from you! Ah, that's understandable. You did mention though that he's been involved in the design and the process of it which sounds very optimistic to me, as it really does show a lot of acceptance and commitment for change.

    I agree with the respectful instead of scolding approach of course, but I think another thing to think about is empowerment- given that the cottage will be smaller, what sort of space does he want it to look like? Are there hobbies he really enjoys- building up that sense of opportunity and choice can be really helpful, even if it's 'I really wanted to paint my wall blue at home but never got around to it', or 'I'd love to have a reading area'.

    It's wonderful too that he's seeing a psychologist; have you ever thought about family therapy? While you said you both have a good relationship, family therapy can really facilitate that safe space and how you can work collaboratively too.

    The other thing that I thought I'd mention is working within his 'window of tolerance'. The idea being that regardless of how kind and compassionate you are (which is a major kudos to you), it will be uncomfortable either way - so delicately finding that space where there's time for hard conversations and times to just take a breather and do enjoyable things together.

    I hope this helps! This might be a bit of a long post- I hope that you're taking really good care of yourself throughout this.

    rt

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