People with hoarding disorder (HD) experience strong emotional attachment to their possessions, and extreme difficulty and distress when throwing things away. This can lead to excessive collecting of possessions, with risks to movement in one’s home, sanitation, and safety. One possible explanation for this strong emotional attachment to possessions is loneliness, as people with HD bond with their possessions to replace the bonds with other people that are missing from their lives. The social impacts of HD may reinforce and deepen these feelings of loneliness by making it difficult to form or sustain healthy relationships.
Dr. Yap and his team will attempt to address loneliness in people with HD through an online program that is known to be effective in reducing feelings of loneliness. The team has completed the first proof-of-concept study where they randomly assigned 298 people screened for high levels of hoarding symptoms to the Building Stronger Connections (BSC) program or to a control condition. The BSC program is an online psychoeducation program which presents facts and myths about loneliness. It also introduced strategies and activities to help participants reduce social isolation. The results showed that BSC led to a greater reduction in loneliness relative to controls, and that the reduction in loneliness was associated with a reduction in their emotional attachment to objects. The team is currently making improvements to the program based on participant feedback for their second study and plan to recruit clinical participants with HD in 2023.