Diagnosing Diogenes

Callie Ollish

What is Diogenes?

Diogenes is a syndrome that is commonly related to mental health, but does not always have to be. It is characterized by a lack of care regarding the patients' living conditions and their overall health. This is generally considered to be self neglect, as they are often extremely apathetic about their condition, allowing it to progressively get worse over time. Patient's are often found living in domestic squalor, with most cases revolving around the elderly. Due to this domestic squalor, patients often show signs of malnutrition which could be because of declinations, such as vision and mobility, that are common with increasing age.


  • Similar symptoms as malnutrition: anemia & low ascorbic acid in urine
  • Self neglect
  • Poor hygiene
  • Poor/ itchy skin
  • Neglected teeth or feet
  • Sacral ulcers
  • Unexplained bruises
  • Reclusive habits
  • Matted hair, lice or other infestations
  • "Cognitive inflexibility"
  • Living in domestic squalor

Source: http://fhs.mcmaster.ca/medicine/geriatric/docs/Diogenes-Syndrome-Rounds.pdf

Possible Causes

  • Mental illness
  • Low income
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Debilitating injury
  • Depression
  • Personality disorder

Source: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1756-0500/7/276

Exemplary Character

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Throughout the story of the Grinch, the namesake character exemplifies Diogenes syndrome very well. Overall, the Grinch has ostracized himself, living in a cave, on the top of a mountain, far away from society. This is an example of the reclusive habits that are communion Diogenes syndrome. Patients are commonly the Atticus Finch's of their town, just as the Grinch is. He makes no effort to interact with the town, except when there is some benefit for himself. The Grinch also shows the behavioral trait of cognitive inflexibility. This is typically just a very stubborn person; someone who is not willing to accept that there is a problem or that they may need help. During the movie, the Grinch is not willing to accept that Christmas is beneficial; that there is some kind of community surrounding Whoville. He becomes bent on tearing their Christmas spirit down, unwilling to accept the wonders of Christmas that are before his eyes. It is not until he comes down from his mountain and his interaction with little Cindy Loo Who that he sees that there is some merit in Christmas as a whole. Finally, from what little we see of the inside of the Grinch's home, and his collective behaviors during the film, it is clear that he has hoarding tendencies. In the case of the Grinch, this would be active, for he makes a trip to every home in Whoville in order to collect more items to store in his Anti-Christmas Shrine. Hoarding is common in Diogenes syndrome, either passively or actively, as the filth starts to encroach and items start to gather around them.

Source (picture): https://jasonfanelli.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/grinchsmile.jpg

Where To Go For Help

Diogenes is not a very well known syndrome, so it tends to have very little representation in society. For this reason, there are no hotlines or websites that are solely dedicated to patients with Diogenes. Moreover, due to their reclusive habits and cognitive inflexibility, it would be futile to try and help patients by reaching out to them. However, I have compiled a few mental health hotlines that can give caretakers more information about Diogenes syndrome or provide next steps for care of their loved ones. Moreover, if a professional opinion is what you seek, taking your loved one for an examination will often prompt doctors to treat them for the ailments that they are suffering from, and may even prompt them to have authorities involved for proper clean up if force is necessary and called for under current mental health statutes. Often times, their hands may be tied during these situations and there is very little that they can do to help unless a patient poses a severe risk to others.

Without further ado:

  1. Mental Health Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK
  2. National Institute of Mental Health at 1-866-615-6464 or http://www.nimh.nih.gov
  3. http://www.treatment4addiction.com at 855-900-9468