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Diogenes Syndrome: Compulsive Hoarding and Extreme Self-Neglect in the Elderly

lack of shame is an indication of having Diogenes Syndrome/ Photo By oneinchpunch via Shutterstock

 

In the fourth century, a Greek philosopher named Diogenes became known for his disdain for social organization and for not having a sense of shame, a study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry states. This is where the Diogenes Syndrome originated.

This mental illness is also called Senile Squalor Syndrome, Messy House Syndrome, Self-Neglect Syndrome, Plyushkin’s Syndrome and Severe Social Breakdown Syndrome. According to Healthism, it is a condition that is “characterized by extreme self-neglect, domestic squalor, social withdrawal, apathy, compulsive hoarding of garbage or animals and lack of shame.” In addition, symptoms of catatonia may manifest in individuals who are affected by the Diogenes Syndrome.

Healthline states that this disorder is usually associated with other mental disorders such as dementia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, and schizophrenia. Both males and females are at risk of suffering Diogenes Syndrome. Sufferers of Diogenes Syndrome usually live by themselves and are oblivious to how much they have neglected themselves and their house. This may result in getting into accidents or developing further complications like pneumonia. It is said to be prevalent in people who are more than 60 years of age and who possess average intelligence.

Causes

Medical News Today says that there is not much known about what contributes to the development of Diogenes Syndrome. A majority of studies concentrate on the psychological case studies. It is also stated that there are more studies conducted on in individuals than in groups, so there are not enough samples that can be used as references.

Several pieces of research speculate that half of Diogenes Syndrome patients did not previously suffer from a mental illness. Some experts believe that it may be a stress reaction that was a response to a negative event. For example, they may have witnessed the death of one of their family members. Other instances that may prompt them to have this disorder include divorce and retirement. When a person is mourning and going through extremely stressful circumstances, they may discontinue from doing their daily activities or may disregard them.

people who suffer from Diogenes Syndrome may be prescribed medicines used to address depression/ Photo By By Jacob Lund via Shutterstock

 

Their symptom of compulsive hoarding may be triggered by their prefrontal cortex being impaired. This area of the brain is the one that is involved in decision-making. Other health conditions such as vision problems, stroke, congestive heart failure, not being able to move alone because of arthritis and broken bones, and becoming weaker may also make them more likely to acquire the syndrome.

This may also be possibly induced by other risk factors such as having experienced abuse in the past, having an addiction, having a record of substance abuse and having a history of suffering from a mental illness. Certain personality or character traits may also cause them to be affected by Diogenes Syndrome such as being unfriendly, suspicious and aloof from others as well as being introverted.

Symptoms

An elder who is affected by Diogenes Syndrome but has not yet been diagnosed may display physical symptoms such as having dry and disheveled hair, having overgrown toenails and fingernails, having body odor, having unexplainable injuries, having skin rashes which were induced by poor hygiene, lice, and fleas as well as being dehydrated and suffering from, malnutrition. The house of the individual may be filled with rodents and huge heaps of garbage, causing it to emit an unpleasant smell.

They may also excessively hoard materials, totally seclude themselves from other people, act aggressively and be hostile to individuals they encounter, feel very suspicious and anxious in the presence of others, be detached from reality, and deny or disregard the appearance of their home.

Treatment

Treatment for Diogenes Syndrome patient may be difficult because often, they do not want to be subject to it. However, if they do not seek medical attention, it may lead them to have a more fatal health condition or cause them to have more injuries. They may also pose environmental dangers to people who live near them if they do not get treated.

When they are able to consult a doctor, the healthcare professional will first assess if other conditions and factors that caused their mental illness. After the examination, they will then recommend the most appropriate treatment method that would suit the case of the patient. Some patients may take behavioral therapies like psychotherapy.

People who suffer from Diogenes Syndrome may be prescribed medicines used to address depression, psychosis, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It is also advisable for them to join support groups. Providing the affected with cleaning and personal health care services may also help them in recovering and lessening their symptoms. Caregivers may also consult professionals who work in local social services. In some cases, it may be necessary for them to be confined in the hospital to get in-patient treatment. Caregivers are advised to handle patients with sensitivity and always consider their feelings and their needs.

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