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Hoarding: Tragedy Underscores The Dangers Of Elderly Hoarding

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A tragic fire earlier this week in Greenwich, Conn. that killed a 42-year-old-man and left his 69-year-old mother in critical condition in a burn unit may have been set as the result of a hoarding situation.

Dean Verboven and his mother Barbara Verboven had been contacted by the town's social services in September after neighbors told them the interior of the house was nearly impassable because of hoarding, according to ctpost.com. Dean Verboven reportedly agreed to clear out the home, but a visit by social workers Friday showed little had been done. Social services was scheduled to return on Tuesday, October 2, but the fire was set -- officials won't comment on how -- on Monday, according to news reports. The clutter interfered with firefighters' attempts to rescue the Verbovens, according to Greenwich Patch.

One neighbor told CBS New York that Barbara Verboven was wheelchair-bound and lived almost exclusively in a single room of the house, where she ate, slept and left the TV on around the clock. Her spouse, a Greenwich police officer, died 20 years ago, according to news reports.

Neighbor Robert Meehan told Greenwich Patch that people on the block knew "that you couldn't walk in the house...it was like a hoarder-type situation."

Another neighbor, Gladys Pardo, told CBS New York: “I know this boy since he was 8 years old and they are … they are sweet people, nice people.”

There are an estimated four million hoarders nationwide and many, many more who fall on the spectrum of "problematic cluttering behavior," according to Smith College psychologist Randy Frost, co-author of the book, "Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things." He is an expert on obsessive-compulsive disorder and a pioneer in the field of compulsive hoarding.

Frost has found that hoarding among the elderly may be a consequence of the deprivation they experienced during the Great Depression or WW II. They save everything, keep broken appliances, won't part with worthless items and acquire more things regularly at garage sales, he told The Huffington Post.

Sometimes adult children will continue the hoarding, Frost said, especially when they are confronting the eventual loss of a parent. They figure they can sort through the clutter at a later time. But what's actually occurring is that they are starting to become hoarders themselves, Frost said. There may even be a genetic connection to hoarding, he noted.

Alan Barry, the commissioner of the Greenwich department of social services agreed, telling ctpost.com that often in hoarding situations, one family member continues what another family member has started. Earlier this year the town launched a hoarding task force that involves his department, police, fire, health and zoning officials. "When you have any hoarding it kind of gets passed down," he told the ctpost.com. "It's every town's dirty little secret. It happens everywhere but it gets swept under the rug."

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

How do you know if your parents are hoarders? Check out the slideshow below; if their living space looks like image #4 or higher, then the clutter is impinging on their lives and you're encouraged to seek help, said Smith College psychologist Randy Frost. (Images used with permission from Oxford University Press, which published Frost's earlier book "Compulsive Hoarding and Acquiring.")

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