Breakthrough Research Reveals Difference Between Hoarding and OCD

By Emily Murray

Most of us are familiar with the compulsion known as hoarding as it has gained media traction over the past few years, but a new study may allow us new insight into this mind boggling way of life.

For many, the idea of living in homes that are overrun with clutter and seemingly worthless possessions is unimaginable but for those suffering from this extreme inability to part with anything, they can’t seem to function any other way.

Until recently the phenomenon was a bit of a mystery, in fact, it’s now believed that it has been medically mis-categorized as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) for many years now.  A new study however is  helping doctors and those affected by a hoarding family member or friend understand this complex disorder even further.

The study was published recently in Journal of the American Medical Association and shows for the first time how the brain reacts to decision making in hoarders. It appears that it’s not OCD behavior at all but actually the inability for a specific area of the brain to work the way a non-hoarder’s brain does.

Hoarding Vs. OCD: The Thought Process

The study was lead by Dr. David Tolin of the International OCD Foundation. He and his team studied how 107 test subjects reacted through the decision making process of keeping apiece of junk mail or throwing it out. Of those involved in the study, 31 had been diagnosed with OCD and 43 had hoarding disorder.

The pieces of mail that the subjects were given was sometimes addressed to them but other times had someone else’s name on it. In those with hoarding disorder, there was a significant difference in brain activity when the mail was addressed to them. Researchers pegged this as “abnormal activity,” when it comes to the ability to make a decision.  Strangely enough when the mail wasn’t addressed to them, the brain activity was much quieter than normal. By comparison, this didn’t happen in the brain activity of those with OCD. While medical professionals have always believed that hoarding is a part of OCD, this test is the first to have proven this theory wrong.

For those suffering from hoarding disorder, this new insight might eventually be very significant. Now that the distinction has been made, medical professionals can start looking at other treatment methods. It was originally believed that hoarding was nearly un-treatable but many are now starting to see that by treating them for OCD they were actually providing the wrong type of treatment.

For those who watch the TV shows that reveal the hidden lives of hoarders, it’s typically hard for them to feel compassion for these people who are often mislabeled as “pack rats.” Hoarding is a disorder like any other marked by the inability to make decisions.