Diogenes syndrome: what it is, what causes it, and how to treat it

Posted on Sep 5, 2022      90

Let’s break down what Diogenes syndrome is and how it manifests itself. Probably many people have come across people who have some kind of special passion for hoarding. At first glance, they resemble vagrants or poor people trying to carry away as much junk as possible.

In fact, this condition is a manifestation of a fairly common mental illness - Diogenes syndrome. About 5% of the elderly suffer from this disorder, although it also occurs among the young.

Who is Diogenes

Diogenes was an ancient Greek philosopher, who would now be nicknamed the chief lover of epatage. It is known that the thinker lived in a clay pitcher - pythos in the center of Athens, used a cloak instead of a bed, also Diogenes often took food directly on the square, which in Ancient Greece was considered being still a mauvais ton.

But there is no information in any source that the philosopher took to his abode the garbage from all of Athens. It is known that the philosopher’s property consisted only of a bag and a staff. Through such a way of life, the philosopher tried to assert his complete freedom and independence. It is even known that Diogenes wanted only one thing from Alexander of Macedon: not to block him from the sun.

What is Diogenes syndrome?

Diogenes syndrome or senile squalor syndrome is a mental disorder characterized by an extremely contemptuous attitude towards oneself, social isolation, apathy, a tendency to accumulate and collect many stuff (pathological hoarding) and a lack of shame.

Such people are not adapted to life and experience certain difficulties in communicating with people. The major problem lies in their lack of understanding and their unwillingness to correct the situation because, in their opinion, there are no problems.

A separate syndrome was recognized in 1966. The name “Diogenes syndrome” was suggested by several researchers in honor of the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes, a supporter of extreme minimalism, who, according to legend, lived in a pythos (a large clay vessel). However, there is no exact information that Diogenes was engaged in the accumulation of possessions, and at the same time, he sought human companionship, taking daily walks to the Agora.

Symptoms of Diogenes syndrome

Psychologists say that Diogenes syndrome is known for such symptoms:

  • hoarding
  • Lack of hygiene;
  • reclusiveness;
  • shamelessness;
  • apathy;
  • avarice;
  • lack of self-criticism;
  • aggressiveness toward criticism.

People with Diogenes syndrome live poorly, although they often have enough money. Such people prefer not to touch their savings and keep them in their hiding places or in a bank account. Such people carry everything from the street: empty cardboard boxes, old furniture, strollers and other unnecessary items. The situation is made worse by the unpleasant smell. Every thing, in their opinion, is needed and will come in handy in everyday life, so the throw nothing away.

For such people, order and cleanliness in the house, as well as their own appearance and hygiene, are of secondary importance. There is even an unusual type of pathological hoarding - pathological hoarding of animals. This is a situation in which many stray dogs or cats are kept in the home without receiving proper care.

Typically, older people suffer from the disease, but it sometimes occurs in younger people as well. Researchers from the University of California, a long time investigated this disease, concluded that the passion for collecting is laid in the human brain. Many of us as children diligently collected stamps, postcards, badges, coins, ordinary candy wrappers. Doctors say that many collectors are gradually approaching the disease, so they advise to monitor the behavior of their loved ones. With age, this passion passes some people, while others grow into a serious hobby.

Case in point

Resident of the Swedish city of Shellefteo Kurt Degerman spent the last 30 years of his life living at the dump, eating leftovers. He died at age 60; the syndrome began with him around age 30 and was not associated with old age. After his death, a fortune of about a million and a half dollars was found in his bank account.

As a young man, Kurt realized that food and clothes from the store were unnecessary waste, so he lived in a dumpster and wear dirty clothes instead of a house. Until his death, the man wore the same dirty blue jacket. He found food and clothes at the dump. With all the money he got by begging or by turning in cans, Degerman invested in securities and gold.

The relatives said that Degerman was an excellent financial analyst and had an excellent understanding of the processes of the stock market. However, he could not use the fruits of his mind, and his wealth went to his relatives.

In this case, the object of pathological hoarding is financial resources.


The cause of the disease becomes a disorder of the frontal lobe of the brain. Experts say that this disorder explains the strange behavior, because in this area is the center that makes rational decisions.

Causes of the unusual disease can also be:

  • Head trauma.
  • Severe stress.
  • Alcoholism.
  • Drug addiction.
  • Mental disorders of old age.
  • A pathological tendency to hoarding.

For a long time, there was a version that people who suffered from this disease were poor throughout life, or those who were stingy. However, this assumption is erroneous.

How to treat Diogenes syndrome

People suffering from this syndrome do not understand that they need specialist help, so they do not seek it. The responsibility falls on the shoulders of the people closest to them. It is they who should be the first to see the strangeness that manifests itself and send for treatment.

The most correct decision will be to send the patient for consultation with a psychiatrist. In untreated cases, the doctor may prescribe special medications that will improve the patient’s condition. If the medication is taken regularly, the symptoms of the disease weaken or disappear completely, and the person returns to a normal way of life.

Knowing how to motivate the patient is very helpful. For example, it is necessary to clean the house, so that the “collection” is kept in order and is pleasant to look at. The patient needs to understand that he himself needs to keep his room clean, even if the victims of Diogenes syndrome have an exceptional notion of order. Psychiatrists advise to influence the patients’ consciousness because their room is uncomfortable and there is no place to sit down.

It is very important, at least once a week, to take an interest in his “collection” and communicate with him about his hobbies. It is necessary to remain a loving relative who is ready to come to the rescue at any moment. This will not be easy, as people with Diogenes syndrome usually isolate themselves and are sometimes very aggressive. Home psychotherapy will help a lot in treatment if you try to find contact with them and try to understand them.

If the illness is at a neglected stage, it is necessary to undergo treatment in a psychiatric clinic. But the patient can be placed there only with his consent or by declaring him legally incompetent, by court order. But since such behavior is still regarded as a way of life, doctors often recognize patients with this illness as adequate, which shows that there is no need for compulsory medical care.