People with Diogenes syndrome: characteristics and how to help them

We have all kept clothes that are no longer useful at times, as well as old magazines and worthless objects, in case we need them again in the future. However, these isolated events become a way of life that has serious repercussions in a person with Diogenes syndrome.

We are talking about a disorder in which the individual accumulates objects, remains and waste at home, being unable to get rid of them. Lots of unusable items are spread throughout the home, preventing functional use of it and favoring dangerous unsanitary conditions. How can this happen?

What are the causes of Diogenes syndrome?

The causes of this disorder are not clear. However, tends to occur more frequently in people who live in isolation and experience chronic loneliness. In addition, it is common for a stressful event to occur that triggers the onset of symptoms.

Rigid thoughts also play an important role. These individuals feel deep insecurity and fear of being rejected. For this reason, they maintain the belief that social relationships are not safe and try to fill that emotional void with material elements.

Further, They tend to hold ideas related to fear of poverty, lack and poor decision making. For this reason, they keep the objects to make sure they have them, in case in a possible and hypothetical future they were necessary.

In the elderly who live alone, the syndrome is more common.

Keep reading: What is hoarding disorder?

Syndrome characteristics

Among the characteristics of this syndrome, the main aspect is the accumulation of a huge amount of belongings with no real value that the person is not able to dispose of. But, in reality, it is usually a process closely related to self-abandonment and that goes through different phases.

Thus, people with Diogenes syndrome keep scraps and waste out of sheer neglect. Later, as these increase in quantity, they begin to order them in their own random way. Finally, not only do you keep what you own, but you also go out to find other objects.

All of the above leads to abandonment in which health as well as appearance and environmental conditions are neglected. Thus, serious problems arise from poor diet and lack of hygiene.

Also, frequently, difficulties are experienced in the few social relationships that are maintained. And is that the careless appearance of these people usually causes rejection in others.

Household dysfunction

As the syndrome progresses, housing conditions become unsustainable. Clothes, newspapers and gadgets of all kinds are spread everywhere, preventing access to essential places, like the kitchen, the bathroom or the bed.

Bad smells, dirt, and even animal pests become a permanent part of the home, making it uninhabitable and creating problems with neighborhood coexistence.

How to help a person with Diogenes syndrome?

The person with Diogenes syndrome has a difficult pathology to deal with, because they are not able to perceive the seriousness of the situation. For this reason, they do not seek professional help. Thus, it is essential, first of all, to make the patient aware of his problem. In addition, it is necessary to work on various fronts:

  • Perform a psychoeducation regarding the disorder, explaining what it is and why it occurs.
  • Act on health problems that have arisen.
  • Clean and disinfect the home in deep.
  • Modify dysfunctional thoughts on poverty, deprivation and personal relationships.
  • Reset social skills and active participation in society. It is especially important to involve family members and those closest to them so that they understand and support the process.

Risk factors for a person suffering from Diogenes syndrome

Keep in mind that there are certain factors that increase the likelihood of a person suffering from Diogenes syndrome. Knowing them helps us to stay alert and detect possible cases in our environment.


This syndrome usually occurs in people over 65 years of age. The elderly is a critical stage, due to the changes derived from retirement (loss of social status). But also to the greater tendency to loneliness, which worsens in the event of the death of the spouse.

Find out more: How loneliness affects the health of older adults

Personality traits

People who are withdrawn, hostile, sullen and with difficulties in relating to relationships are more prone to to suffer from the syndrome. In addition, characteristics such as perfectionism and psychological rigidity increase the risk.

Anxiety disorders are a risk factor for Diogenes syndrome, as well as depression.

Mental diseases

By last, It is common for many people who end up suffering from Diogenes syndrome to have previous pathologies. Personality disorders, anxiety problems, psychosis, dementias and addictions are some of the most associated.

The person with Diogenes syndrome needs help from others

Definitely, it is a disorder that is usually not detected until years after it has started. At that time the consequences are more severe and the possibilities of intervention are complicated. This is why prevention and interdisciplinary intervention are so important.

If in your immediate environment you detect that someone meets the risk criteria or shows behaviors compatible with the above, stay alert. The simple fact of visiting the person regularly can prevent the progression of the syndrome. And, in case of need, resort to the relevant public services.