August 7, 2012

Hoarders Might Not Be Obsessive, After All

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

Psychologists have, for many years, considered the hoarding disorder to be an arm of OCD. Now, new research is challenging this notion, saying those with a hoarding disorder simply make decisions differently than others.

The new study has been published in the Journal of American Medical Association and shows the brainwaves in patients with the hoarding disorder move differently than those with OCD, suggesting a biological difference between hoarders and those with obsessive compulsive disorder.

Hoarding disorder is currently defined as the excessive collection of items and objects and the inability to discard them. Those with HD often avoid making decisions about what items they should get rid of and when they should get rid of them.

"A hoarder is not a pack rat. A hoarder is not a slob. A hoarder is not lazy," said Dr. Jeff Szymanski, executive director of the International OCD Foundation, speaking to ABC News. "A part of their brain doesn't work the way your brain works."

Though he offered his comments to Dr. Szymanski didn´t participate in the new study.

David F. Tolin, Ph.D., of the Institute of Living, Hartford, Connecticut and his colleagues studied the brainwaves of adults with HD using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure their neural activity when they were confronted with decisions about whether to keep or discard items.

Dr. Tolin and his team studied a total of 107 adults: 43 were diagnosed with HD, 31 were diagnosed with OCD, and 33 were labeled as healthy individuals. The team then asked these participants to decide if they should keep or throw away common items, such as junk mail and newspapers.

In some tests, the junk mail belonged to the participant, while in different tests, the junk mail was addressed to someone else.

When a participant with HD was shown a piece of junk mail that belonged to them, certain parts of their brain lit up, signaling “abnormal activity” in the decision making parts of the brain. When someone else´s mail was shown to those participants with HD, the same part of the brain was quiet. According to Dr. Tolin, this brain activity was only present in the HD participants´ brains.

“The present findings of ACC and insula abnormality comport with emerging models of HD that emphasize problems in decision-making processes that contribute to patients´ difficulty discarding items,” said the studies authors in a statement.

According to Dr. Tolin, he and his team decided to embark on this new research because they were dissatisfied with the idea that hoarding was an extension of OCD and should be treated thusly.

"The more that we got to know people who hoard“¦they didn't really resemble people with OCD all that much," he said.

"The more basic information you know about a particular disorder, the better equipped you're going to be."

Dr. Tolin went on to say their research shows that those with HD don´t, on the most basic level, understand the extent of their problem. Therefore, their brains exhibit underpowered activity when they are faced with decisions which aren´t important to them.

"These regions of the brain are part of what makes you bothered by it," he said.

If these regions of the brain are under stimulated , as they are in those with HD, then a decision simply isn´t made.