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Ryerson researchers examine link between loved ones and their influence on people who hoard

Research shows hoarding affects people increasingly as they age

Researchers Valerie Vorstenbosch, a graduate student, and Dr. Martin Antony, Chair and Professor of Ryerson's Department of Psychology, are examining how loved ones' behaviour may influence individuals to hoard.

People collect things all the time: books, newspapers, stamps. But when a casual hobby turns into an incessant need to hoard, it becomes a disorder that requires intervention. But how much of hoarders’ behaviours are influenced by their loved ones? Ryerson researchers are investigating these relationships in a new study looking at the link between family members’ behaviours and individuals who hoard.

“There has been a great deal of research that shows a significant association between hoarding and its effect on relationships,” said Valerie Vorstenbosch, a graduate student in the Department of Psychology and a co-investigator of the study. “Less known are the effects that loved ones’ behavioral responses have on individuals’ hoarding symptoms and functional impairment.”

To better understand the links between hoarders and their loved ones, Vorstenbosch and her co-investigator Dr. Martin Antony, Department of Psychology, are conducting a North American study interviewing hoarders and their loved ones. The researchers will investigate the nature of loved ones’ behaviours that may inadvertently encourage a person to hoard and their motivations and attitudes behind their actions. Partners or family members of people who engage in hoarding will also be asked about their satisfaction with their relationships and their general well-being.

“We’re wondering whether loved ones’ accommodating behaviours influence their partners hoarding activities, in turn causing more problems with their relationships and well-being,” said Dr. Antony, who is also chair of the psychology department and Vorstenbosch’s academic supervisor.

According to Dr. Antony, about five per cent of Americans engage in hoarding activities. Although similar statistics are not available for Canada, he notes they are comparable to the U.S. Hoarding also affects people increasingly as they age.

The disorder itself has also caught the attention of mental-health professionals in North America. Originally classified as a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder, the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a reference tool widely used by mental-health professionals, will create a separate class for hoarding with its own unique symptoms.

The researchers hope the study will shed more light on the relationship between people with hoarding issues and their family members or partners. By studying this interaction, Dr. Antony and Vorstenbosch also hope to develop ways to improve treatment that would involve both parties.

“If we do discover that loved ones’ actions do have an effect on people who hoard, it might make sense to include them during the treatment process,” said Dr. Antony.

The researchers expect to report on their findings by next January and publish them in a forthcoming journal.

Ryerson University is Canada's leader in innovative, career-oriented education and a university clearly on the move. With a mission to serve societal need, and a long-standing commitment to engaging its community, Ryerson offers more than 100 undergraduate and graduate programs. Distinctly urban, culturally diverse and inclusive, the university is home to more than 30,000 students, including 2,300 master's and PhD students, nearly 2,700 faculty and staff, and more than 140,000 alumni worldwide. Research at Ryerson is on a trajectory of success and growth: externally funded research has doubled in the past four years. The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education is Canada's leading provider of university-based adult education. For more information, visit www.ryerson.ca

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