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Diogenes syndrome, etiology, symptoms and treatment

Diogenes syndrome, etiology, symptoms and treatment

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Learn how the accumulation of things affects your quality of life. Persuasum


  • 1 What is Diogenes Syndrome?
  • 2 Etiology
  • 3 The role of attachment relationships with objects, people, places and ideas
  • 4 The impact of everyday life events
  • 5 The point of view of genetics
  • 6 The chaos in which housing becomes
  • 7 Main signs and symptoms
  • 8 Treatment

What is Diogenes Syndrome?

Diogenes syndrome is a behavioral disorder in which the affected person shows a total abandonment of their personal care and hygiene and their immediate surroundings, accumulating large amounts of waste and garbage, in addition to voluntarily isolating themselves in their home. It is also known as a ambivalent emotional disorder or illness that is expressed in the dysfunctional attachment relationship with objects, animals, places and memories.

The name was initially associated with the Greek philosopher from the time of Aristotle, Diogenes of Sinope (412 BC - 323 BC) who is said to live as a wanderer in Athens, austerely, in a barrel as a house and surrounded by animals.

Since the original proposal of the Syndrome in 1975, it is also known as "Compulsive Accumulator Syndrome".

  • Accumulation: Compulsion characteristic of obsessive-compulsive disorder that involves the persistent collection of useless or trivial objects (for example, old newspapers, garbage, magazines) and the inability to organize and dispose of them. The accumulation of objects (usually in batteries) results in the obstruction of the space enabled, causing discomfort or deterioration of the function. Any attempt by others to encourage them to discard their reservations causes them extreme anxiety (APA, 2010, p.7).

However, more precisely this syndrome because of its; etiology, signs and symptoms, has been more appropriately called "Organizational Deficit Disorder". It is worth remembering that a disorder groups a set of symptoms that involve "abnormal" physiological behaviors, behaviors or conditions that cause discomfort; mild, persistent or very intense and that alters the biopsychosocial functioning of the sufferer.


Accumulate is a behavior of animals and humans

It is a syndrome of multiple etiology as can be observed.

In the animal kingdom it is common for some species to accumulate things. The curious squirrels, for example, are foresight and in various parts of their environment they hide: nuts, hazelnuts or seeds. Same as later forget and for the benefit of nature sprout trees and fruits that later germinate.

Under this first denomination of Diogenes Syndrome, each of us carries an internal potential accumulator: in the kitchen we store; Different types of food, dishes, appliances and more. We also do it with money, healthy and toxic thoughts, and even today with social networks, we like to accumulate friends. or virtual and face-to-face acquaintances. However, this hardly makes us unable to enjoy our life.

The predisposition to monopolize, is not only deeply rooted in human evolutionary history, but also in our brain structure. Already in 1973, neurologists John Blundell and Jac Herberg, of the London Institute of Neurology, demonstrated that in animals the instinct of accumulation apparently originated in the subcortical brain areas, that is, in the areas below the cerebral cortex and that are phylogenetically old. Subsequently, the neuroscientists Hanna and Antonio Damasio, from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, believe that the impulse of those affected by the Diogenes Syndrome to accumulate potentially useful things arises in the same brain regions as that directed to the collection of food in the case of laboratory animals. Normally this impulse is inhibited by the prefrontal cortex, a part of the frontal brain, or at least adjusted to what is considered socially acceptable. The disorder could therefore be due to damage in that brain region (Marschall, 2010, p. 59).

Another angle, is related to the cognitive formation of categories

The complex elaboration of forming categories in our daily lives, part of entities called concepts and rise cognitively to the level of known or unknown categories. A concept is something well defined and with well defined properties that they share in the set to which they belong. Hence, a dog is different from a chair, and within the concept of documents we can distinguish in a hierarchical order the importance of a school title or a loose sheet where we emergency point a phone.

In the same way, under a cognitive orientation we can identify the most representative concepts of a category, depending on the context. The main theoretical assumption of this Psychological orientation is that: we act according to what we think. Thus, in the concept of Christmas food, many of us can think of the delicious “baked turkey”. We are also forming categories with the concepts and variations they present according to their characteristics.

In the category of chairs or dogs, we can clearly differentiate them and we can identify a huge amount of chairs and our furry friends, just by the characteristics of each one within their category.

The categories have different degrees of abstraction and inclusiveness, and are related to each other constituting hierarchical systems that are called taxonomies. Apart from scientific classifications, which are very articulate, popular taxonomies usually have three levels of abstraction:

  • The basic categories: correspond to the objects of our perceptual world. For example; Table, dog and pencil.
  • The superordinates: at this level that includes the previous categories we have; furniture (table), mammals (dog) or utensils (pencil).
  • Subordinates: This descriptive level considers elements of inclusiveness and abstraction: kitchen table, Danish dog and number one pencil (De Vega, 1992, p. 327).

In the precision of the so-called "Organizational Deficit Disorder" we find a series of characteristics that make it impossible to carry out this identification of concepts and therefore of categories to whom it suffers. Obviously, a serious difficulty to store them in a practical way all accumulated objects.

The role of attachment relationships with objects, people, places and ideas

Marschall (2013) points out that patients suffer from a severe disorder, a storage chaos in the house, with a hypersentimental dependence on goods that are there, there is social isolation. With alterations at the level of the cerebral prefrontal cortex, which is the one in charge; of planning, storing and making decisions, among other things. It produces accumulation behaviors but that does not allow subjects to separate themselves from useful or useless objects (Marschall, 2010, p. 56).

The impact of everyday life events

In psychotraumas resulting from social interaction, they are people who have suffered significant losses in their lives (couple, work, friends or significant relationships related to people, places, ideas or objects) and one way to protect yourself from the environment is to accumulate. If the parents have this condition it is very likely that the children will end up having it, due to vicarious or imitation learning.

Personality traits

Regarding personality traits they are usually paradoxically perfectionist people (who try to sort the chaos in the house and never finish ordering) and obsessive (accumulating more and more). And with dysfunctional attachments which does not allow them to part with accumulated useless objects.

The presence of other mental conditions of the patient

The comorbidity or presence of other mental health conditions also facilitates its presence as in the case of a history of: depression, schizophrenia, senile dementia, anxiety, anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and attention deficit among other.

The point of view of genetics

There is the presence of an accumulator gene, some psychiatrists at John Hopkins University analyzed in 2007 the genome of compulsive accumulators and their families. In both groups the researchers found an abnormality of chromosome 14 that is possibly a risk factor for its appearance (Marschall, 2010, p. 61).

The chaos in which housing becomes

They turn the house into an uninhabitable place, full of objects and at the same time dangerous and unhealthy due to the excessive degree of accumulation. We can identify two large types of stacked objects:

  • Organic: live and dead animals (dogs, cats, canaries, snakes, rodents, cockroaches and more), food (stored, prepared, spoiled, animal feed),
  • Inorganic: junk, bags of all kinds, garbage, newspapers, books, magazines, wrappers, bottles (glass, plastic), pens, photos, childhood supplies, useful and useless appliances (refrigerators, toasters, cars, televisions, telephones, vacuum cleaners ), toys and more, all with the possibility of giving them a future use and without the possibility of getting rid of them, even when they represent a focus of infection or sanitary risk for themselves and the neighbors.

Main signs and symptoms

Here are some of the main symptoms and signs:


  • Inability to plan, organize (categorize and archive) and, where appropriate, dispose of accumulated objects.
  • Inability to establish categorical boundaries to identify the useful or unusable or not distinguish between really important documents or the old telephone directories.
  • Exaggerated investment of time in classifying the objects of the house without any advance.
  • Live in health risk conditions.
  • Loss of control in the accumulation.
  • If they have animals, they present a cognitive distortion thinking that they can care for them by giving them love, but whose result is to have them in overcrowded conditions.
  • Inadequate hygiene and feeding habits.
  • Because of the accumulation of garbage and items that can catch fire, be a high risk for themselves and others.
  • Experience social rejection by friends, neighbors or family. They live their lives, in worse circumstances than patients with other mental illnesses (schizophrenia or senile dementia, for example) due to the fact of turning the house and all its rooms into a nauseating and uninhabitable site.


Feel shame at the possibility that nearby people find out about the state in which they live. And, not being aware of their accumulation behavior (Marschall, 2010; Take care, 2016; De la Serna, 2017).

Although the symptoms can be observed from outside by family members or neighbors of the community. In my point of view, the most important sign comes from the shame the patient feels if those who know him find out about the conditions in which he lives. However, this corresponds to becoming aware that he has a problem and they are hardly aware of it.


Depending on the severity of the patient, it is required:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Interdisciplinary intervention: medical, neurological, psychiatric and social work.
  • As well as the social support of family and / or friends.
  • In the most severe cases, the hospitalization of a clinic specialized in the treatment of mental illnesses is necessary.


APA (2010) APA Concise Dictionary of Psychology, Mexico, Editorial el Manual Moderno.

Take Care (2016) Diogenes Syndrome, accessed September 20, 2019, online: //

De vega M. (1992) Introduction to Cognitive Psychology, Mexico, Editorial Alianza.

Marschall J. (2010) Diogenes Syndrome, Mind and Brain Magazine (Research and Science), May-June No. 42, Barcelona, ​​Editorial Prensa Científica.

Wikipedia (2019) Diogenes Syndrome, accessed September 20, 2019, online: //

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