Mental Illness and Disorganization

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month this May, I would like to share some information about the link between mental illness and disorganization/hoarding.

Many individuals with mental illnesses also have issues with disorganization. This is primarily because the area of the brain most often affected by mental illness is the Central Executive. The CE is the primary area for planning future actions, initiating retrieval and decision processes, and integrating information coming into the system, all necessary for successfully organizing.

Disorders that can arise from a faulty CE are depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, compulsive disorganization, and hoarding.

To clarify, disorganization is not the same as clutter. Clutter can also be thought of as messiness whereas disorganization is broader. Disorganization is a lack of basic categorization accompanied by excessive clutter.

The Institute for Challenging Disorganization defines chronic disorganization using three criteria: having a past history of disorganization in which self-help efforts to change have failed, an undermining of your current quality of life due to disorganization, and an expectation of future disorganization.

Sometimes, we all suffer from faulty CE functioning, especially where time management, attention and switching focus is concerned. Ways to help CE include: organizing workspace, minimizing clutter, and creating “to do” checklists.

When dealing with your own or someone else’s clutter and disorganization, it’s important to approach with compassion. Staying organized and relatively clutter free is difficult for everyone at some point in time. Compassion will create a nurturing environment in which to learn good organizing skills.

Identity Fraud Targeting the Elderly

The largest coordinated sweep of identity fraud involving US seniors has recently been conducted. The US Department of Justice has reported that more than one million elderly people have collectively lost hundreds of millions of dollars because of this targeted financial abuse. The Department has criminally charged 200 out of 250 defendants identified in the sweep. These third party scam artists account for 27% of seniors who are financially exploited.

Digital FraudsterCon artists and scammers employ many different schemes to defraud seniors of their identity information and money. A large number of them are conducted over the telephone, for instance posing as an Internal Revenue Service agent claiming back taxes are owed, or frightening a grandparent to think that their grandchild has been arrested and needs bail money wired to them. Other schemes include the promise of a prize or lottery cash if they just send a large fee in order to collect their “winnings.” Seniors become easy victims when targeted by these social engineering schemes and it is likely to get worse because of the proliferation of smart phones and other devices that get seniors to explore the online world.

USA Today reports that while phone scams target one senior at a time the online environment is opening doors to thousands or even millions of seniors falling prey to a single scam. Email and other online channels can reach a vast number of potential victims and more elderly people have an online presence than ever before.

Romance scams that used to be conducted in person can now be achieved in the online dating environment and even in social media. The attacker can befriend multiple seniors online and then ask for money to cover “travel expenses” to visit them. This is particularly successful as many seniors are dealing with isolation and loneliness.

The online shopping world is another vehicle employed by scam artists to defraud seniors of money. All that is needed is a picture of an object that seems to be owned by the scammer and you have the potential to sell that item over and over again to thousands of seniors. All the scam artist has to do is set up a mirror web site that appears to be a legitimate online auction house such as E-bay to drain seniors of their money as well as obtain credit card and other identity information. These mirror sites masquerading as official websites are often in the email accounts of seniors and a mere click on a link can download malicious software to their device that is designed to steal critical identity information.

Of the 27% of seniors who do become financially exploited by a third party, 67% do not exhibit symptoms of cognitive decline. That is a huge number of mentally fit seniors being financially exploited. This is a pervasive problem in the elderly community. According to the Federal Trade Commission’s “Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2017” identity fraud is second only to debt collection with regard to consumer complaints. Identity fraud accounted for 14% of all consumer complaints last year. The Commission also reported that seniors who are financially exploited suffer higher median losses than other age groups.

Many seniors who have been targeted are embarrassed, ashamed, or scared as a result. Many never saw themselves as being at risk, they fear retribution from the perpetrator, and they fear that government agencies or family members will label them unfit to care for themselves.

Systems can be put in place to monitor senior accounts and make their money less easy to access by scammers. In addition, there are legal documents that can protect the accounts of seniors during their lifetime, and eliminate the chance of fraud or abuse.

This blog post was written and submitted by the St. Charles Illinois Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, Fitzgerald Law Office LLC

Please contact them for more information on how they can help you or your loved ones reduce the chance of financial fraud or abuse.

Food for Thought: Why Switching to Veganism Can Be an Invaluable Health Choice for Seniors With Disabilities

Advancing in age also means becoming more vulnerable to a long list of diseases and disabilities. But much like other population groups, the elderly may also enjoy the health benefits of switching to a vegan diet. The topic of aging and veganism is not widely studied but here are some of the ways that senior citizens can be assisted with a balanced diet of vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts.

Improves mobility

The most common issue for seniors is mobility, more so for disabled ones. The latest accurate US Census data showed that two-thirds of the population reported having difficulty in walking or climbing. There are several reasons for this, such as declining bone health, because aging signals a loss of minerals and calcium in the bones.

While there is no guarantee that brittle bones will be reversed by a vegan diet, Harvard School of Public Health notes that calcium, which is important for improving bone density, is better sourced from plants instead of dairy. The latter has been associated with other illnesses that can also affect the ability of seniors to move around such as diabetes, heart conditions, and cancer. A diet rich with a variety of beans, dark leafy vegetables, grains, and fruits will help seniors reach their daily calcium requirements and might even improve their mobility.

Improves eyesight

Improves Eyesight

There are numerous age-related eye health problems that can cause the diminishing or total loss of vision in the elderly such as macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, or diabetic retinopathy. However, BBC News reported that a change in diet can reverse vision impairment that is consistent with aging. Aside from carrots, other types of food to look out for are those that contain three essential chemicals: lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin. These macular pigments can be found naturally in plants such as kiwi, bell peppers, kale, spinach, collard greens, corn, and saffron.

Improves hearing

Improves Hearing

Although little evidence can be found between the relationship of food and hearing, there are several claims that suggest a vegan diet can boost hearing among the elderly. Loss of hearing is another disability that plagues the older generation due to wear and tear of the nerve cells around the ears. Eating more potassium-rich foods such as bananas, melons, and apricots can induce cell interaction in the inner ear as well as protect damage to the cells, nerves, and blood vessels. A similar effect can be experienced with a healthy intake of vitamins C, E, and D which can be found in papaya, red bell peppers, kiwi, and broccoli as well as supplements. Additionally, flax and chia seeds, walnuts, olive and coconut oil, and beans will provide the essential omega-3 fatty acids that reduce inflammation in the ears.

Improves brain health

Improves Brain Health

Another topic that merits a deeper investigation is the relationship of food with brain-related illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, although some evidence of a positive link have been found. Health IQ cited the preliminary findings of a study that examined adults who eat meat and those who don’t. Careful observation led researchers to conclude that those who follow an omnivorous diet are twice as likely to experience the onset of dementia. Living Life With Dignity recognizes that dealing with the condition is equally difficult for the afflicted elderly and those who care for them, which is why finding ways to delay or completely prevent it is a priority.

Seniors and caregivers alike should get informed and consult with a physician before making a decision. The aforementioned benefits still depend on many factors such as the accessibility of plant-based food for the seniors or the intensity of their disability. However, it is never too late for the elderly to take charge of their life by converting to a healthier alternative when it comes to food choices.

The Different Levels of Clutter/Hoarding and How to Recognize Them

Clutter can mean different things for different people. For some, a small pile of clothes in the corner of an otherwise well-ordered room constitutes serious clutter. For others, the clutter might only register when a room in their house becomes inaccessible.

To help us more accurately distinguish the level of the clutter and provide appropriate help, we use the International OCD Foundation Hoarding Centre Clutter Image Rating and The Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD) Clutter–Hoarding Scale™ (C–HS™).

Clutter Image Rating

The International OCD Foundation Hoarding Centre created a series of 9 pictures of rooms in various stages of clutter – from completely clutter-free to very severely cluttered. People can just pick out the picture in each sequence that comes closest to the clutter in their own living room, kitchen, and bedroom. In general, clutter that reaches the level of picture # 4 or higher impinges enough on people’s lives that we would encourage them to get help for their hoarding problem.

Example of the International OCD Foundation Hoarding Centre Clutter Image Rating

Example of the International OCD Foundation Hoarding Centre Clutter Image Rating

Clutter–Hoarding Scale™

The Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD) developed the Clutter–Hoarding Scale™ (C–HS™) to serve as an observational guideline tool for the assessment of residential environments, and is intended for the assessment of the household environment only. There are five levels to indicate the degree of household clutter and/or hoarding from the perspective of a professional organizer or related professional.

 

The levels in the scale are progressive, with Level I as the lowest and Level V the highest. ICD considers Level III to be the pivot point between a household that might be assessed as cluttered and a household assessment that may require the deeper considerations of working in a hoarding environment.

Within each level are five specific categories that describe the degree of clutter and/or hoarding potential.

1. Structure and Zoning

Assessment of access to entrances and exits; function of plumbing, electrical, HVAC (any aspect of heating, ventilation or air conditioning) systems and appliances; and structural integrity

2. Animals and Pests

Assessment of animal care and control; compliance with local animal regulations; assessment for evidence of infestations of pests (rodents, insects or other vermin)

3. Household Functions

Assessment of safety, functionality and accessibility of rooms for intended purposes

4. Health and Safety

Assessment of sanitation levels in household; household management of medications for prescribed (Rx) and/or over-the-counter (OTC) drugs

5. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Recommendations for PPE (face masks, gloves, eye shields or clothing that protect wearer from environmental health and safety hazards); additional supplies as appropriate to observational level

Example of Clutter- Hoarding Scale Level 5

 

Visit the Kane County Hoarding Task Force website for more resources on help for hoarders: https://www.kchoarding.org/

Choose Love, Not Stuff

I wrote this while my mother was ill some time ago, but the message is still true: Choose balance, choose love, and replace “things” with treasured memories and happy days.

There is never enough time.

Find time for balance in your lifeAs I sit here in the ICU with my ailing mother I lament on what I should have done. What else could I have done? There is never enough time. We all have choices as to how we live our lives and sometimes it is difficult to know when you need to take time away from work to help someone else or when it will be ok to just carry on your day.

I am so aware of my actions and emotions these days that I often feel that ignorance is bliss. How much easier it would be to just react and not be proactive. I have to catch myself and encourage myself to live in this moment. Last night I thought my mother wasn’t going to last through Christmas she was so sick. Today is a good day. She is alert, smiling and eating. I am happy, in this moment, at this time to have her, to love her.

I am reminded of the story “I’ll Love you Forever.” It is a story of a mother that cares and nurtures her son. As a baby she rocks him and tells him she will love him forever. As the story goes on it depicts the relationship of the mother and son and how it changes until the little boy is a grown man caring for and nurturing his mother, rocking her as she had rocked him. As I am blessed to be able to care for my own mother I realize that this transition has occurred. I am now her parent.

When I was a little girl I used to love to be rocked, (truth be told, I still rock when I am stressed). Instead of asking my mother if she would rock me, I would ask her “Momma, can I rock you?” I, like the son in the story, would love nothing more than to pick her up and rock her to sleep. Sleep, with sweet, sweet dreams of heaven.

Only God knows when he will take her, but I know she is ready. She has told me so. What a blessing to know that she is satisfied with her life and that she, while frightened of the unknown like all of us, is at peace knowing she is going “HOME” soon.

Part of having a balance in life is being able to live with the choices you make. Loving and being loved go hand-in-hand.

May you always realize that time and love are your greatest gifts. May you always remember what is important in life. May you make good choices, starting with choosing happiness and love over objects and clutter.