Diogenes syndrome is an unusual behavioral disorder in which patients exhibit symptoms of self-neglect, poor housekeeping, and compulsive hoarding. These symptoms can appear in elderly people who live alone or in those who have experienced a traumatic event. Patients may have symptoms of dementia, but often these patients are mentally competent. Self-neglect and poor hygiene may lead to malnutrition and other physical health problems.
This disorder was originally named after the eccentric Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope, who was known for being an outcast and living in a marketplace. He did not believe in relying on others or material possessions. These traits have been described in case reports of patients with Diogenes syndrome; however, most patients have additional symptoms, such as compulsive hoarding, that Diogenes did not have. Diogenes syndrome is often referred to as senile squalor syndrome.
Many patients with Diogenes syndrome live alone, are reclusive, and have few friends. These elderly patients seem unconcerned with their own hygiene or with their unsanitary living conditions. They do not seek help for this condition, and it is often discovered by a relative or neighbor. Many of these patients are distrustful of others and may be uncooperative. They will often refuse treatment by healthcare workers and they will ask to be left alone.
It is believed that this disorder is some form of personality disorder that may be triggered by a stressful event such as the loss of a spouse. Some patients may have additional symptoms such as dementia or schizophrenia, but many are very intelligent and aware of their situation. Scientists believe that patients with Diogenes syndrome may have some disturbance in the frontal lobe of the brain which controls decision making and concern for one's wellbeing.
Treatment of this disorder can be challenging. Often, patients are hospitalized for short periods of time for acute physical health issues. Upon recovery, these patients can be transferred to a nursing home, but most want to return to their homes. Cleaning of the home by professionals is often just a temporary solution, as conditions usually return to the original state.
These patients are usually suspicious of others, so healthcare workers or relatives must work to develop a trusting relationship with the patient. Aggressive treatment may make patients withdraw and become more reclusive. Treatment options also include medication to treat other symptoms, such as depression or obsessive compulsive disorder. Socialization of these patients in day care centers may also be a treatment option.