WINDSOR, Conn. (WTNH) -- Connecticut researchers now have a better understanding of the brain activity in patients with hoarding disorder. There's evidence that connects abnormal activity in the brain to a patient's ability to decide whether to keep something or throw it out.
For at least a decade, John Dunn has been hoarding stacks of stuff.
"Basically I like to keep things for the rainy day," said Dunn. "I'll need them someday, the problem is I have so many I can't keep up or file them."
Now a reformed hoarder, his home is a stark contrast compared to when he first shared his story. Back then, rooms were unorganized and cluttered with a shower packed with paper.
"The situation goes up and down and back and forth since then," Dunn said.
What goes on in the brain, leading to excessive clutter is clearer now with an MRI study released by the Institute of Living in Hartford.
Researchers found when it came down to personal items the part of the brain associated with the decision making was greatly affected.
Dr. David Tolin says, "parts of their brain that are involved with determining the importance or the relevance or the salience of something, kicked into overdrive. They become overwhelmed, it's like they can't make the decision."
So people like Dunn with hoarding disorder, walk away and the piles of clutter build up.
"The next step for us," says Dr. Tolin, "is to understand whether these differences in brain activity are permanent traits that, is this just how things are in your brain or whether we can do something about it."
Dunn says, "you feel a lot of blame in this situation and to find there's some potential cause that you are not humanely responsible for either having or correcting is at least somewhat comforting. It's a step to know and a piece to think about knowing that it's just not all me, consciously."
The results also lead researchers to believe that hoarding disorder is not a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Dr. Tolin points out, "we see with the way the brain is functioning Hoarding Disorder is clearly different, " which could bring about more effective and efficient treatment.
Dr. Tolin is now looking into whether response to cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of counseling, could be associated with positive changes in how the brain functions.
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