One day, we received a call from the Residents’ Committee. They needed our help urgently. An elderly lady was standing at the 18th floor corridor of a HDB block next to our centre, trying to commit suicide. The police was there restraining her and she became physically and verbally abusive to the people around her. Our counsellor rushed to the scene and managed to calm her down. She was subsequently sent to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) and then transferred to Institute of Mental Health (IMH).
We learned later that Mdm Tan was 80 years old, widowed and staying alone in a three-room HDB flat. Her only son was married and living abroad. Apparently her flat was stocked full of items she picked up over the years. Her neighbours complained to the MP and the Town Council was tasked to clear the items in her flat. The decluttering was done over two days, and on the second day as her flat became more and more empty, Mdm Tan became emotionally dysregulated and threatened suicide. She was subsequently diagnosed with dementia at IMH.
This case has taught us that sometimes hoarding can be due to undiagnosed dementia, and it is important to understand the causes that led to hoarding and to treat the person appropriately before doing a forceful decluttering. Since then, O’Joy had actively advocated for older persons to be counselled and mentally prepared before the actual decluttering is carried out. This is to reduce the extreme anguish and anxiety arising from the removal of what they would consider items precious to them.
(All names are not real, and details have been changed to protect the identity of these individuals)
Written by Chew Yat Peng, principal counsellor at O'Joy