The social isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic created widespread issues for communities across the country. In Randolph, Massachusetts, town officials noticed increased reports of hoarding among older adult residents. “We heard from police and firefighters responding to medical emergencies, the health department and code enforcement, as well as elder affairs,” says Elizabeth LaRosee, Randolph’s director of library, recreation, and community programs. “We had issues of hoarding before, but it got so much worse with the pandemic.”
In 2021, the town formed a task force to develop ways to strategically address the increase in hoarding behaviors. LaRosee applied for and secured a grant from the Mass. Council on Aging to help finance the task force’s plan. The first step was locating a training program on hoarding so that the task force members—and by extension, their departments—could develop a better understanding of the issue.
LaRosee was excited when she discovered an online hoarding course from the Center for Aging and Disability Education and Research’s (CADER). LaRosee says, “the CADER course was ideal because it was really for anyone in the helping professions, including firefighters, health department officials, and library staff, as well as mental health providers, social workers and housing managers.” Twenty Randolph officials, as well as staff from Aspire Health, the town’s recently designated Community Behavioral Health Center participated in the training. Referencing CADER’s learner support service, LaRosee added, “I loved that I got an email update from CADER every few weeks letting me know who hadn’t yet taken the course and how the program was progressing. That was great because then I could follow up to remind people.”
Participants overwhelmingly felt they gained a greater understanding of hoarding and how to respond to it. “The course provided really useful information,” wrote one participant in their evaluation. “I appreciated the ease of doing it virtually and at my own pace. I look forward to utilizing this knowledge in my current and future practice.”
One of the most significant benefits LaRosee has seen is that the CADER training helped decrease the stigma around hoarding across the town of Randolph. “Now, when people encounter hoarding, they know it’s a mental health concern and not who the person is,” she explains. “And then we’re able to refer them to the right places. For example, if our fire department walks in and sees an older adult resident struggling with hoarding, they’ll contact our senior outreach team who can work with them directly or connect them with Aspire Health. We also have free therapist referrals for Randolph residents.”
After completing the CADER training, LaRosee notes she would have structured the Mass. Council on Aging grant differently:
“In addition to the training, we requested money for marketing and educational programs, but we put most of the money toward clean outs. After going through the program, and learning what hoarding is and the barriers for people seeking help, I would have put more money into the education piece. We held three educational sessions for residents and connected with several family members who were concerned about an older adult relative. Through those sessions, we were able to help the family who then were able to help their older adult family members clean out their houses.”
LaRosee is grateful for the CADER training and how it has strengthened the town’s response to hoarding. “We want do our best to support our seniors because they’re such an important part of the town,” she concludes.