How do I comfort my elderly grandmother who is always crying wolf?

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My 86 year old grandmother is very healthy for a woman in her 80s. Unlike most people her age, she is on no medication and everytime we take her to the doctors' office- they find only minor problems. However, most of her problems are emotional. She thinks everyone in the family is responsible for her happiness; consequently, she wants our attention all of the time. One of the ways that she tries to gain attention is by crying that she's "dying" and wants to be taken to the emergency room at the hospital. Believe me, we have taken her to the ER many times in the past and the doctors found nothing. She is truly just doing this for attention. The one time that she did have a serious medical condition, we found out through other means- not from her whining, crying, or complaining (in other words, she didn't have to make a scene in order for us to know that it's time for us to take her to the doctor's). She had a silent stroke, and the reason we knew was because she was acting a bit more confused than normal. It's a constant battle with her and my father (who just had a malignant brain tumor removed- which my grandmother is completely oblvious to. She thinks he just had this little thing in his head and the doctors took it out). My father loses his temper whenever she starts going on her "I'm dying!" or "take me to the ER!" tirads. Personally I am trying my very best to reach out to her with love and compassion, but it's difficult when all she does is complain about how awful her life is (we all have our problems) and makes it seem like everyone around her has an obligation to keep her happy and fulfilled. What's the best approach to take when she wants to be taken to the hospital or complains about nonexistent or minor ailments merely for attention (please, before someone yells at me for ignoring her cries for help, just believe me when I say that she's not fatally sick when she does this)?

Answers 1 to 10 of 15
You tell us that you believe that all mom wants is attention. I believe that and I also believe that she may be in early stage dementia but I'm no physician. My wife has similar needs and I have finally worked out a method that helps us. It's "distraction". Just last night she was pretty insistent that I take her home. Of course this has been our home for 45 years. So I said to her, "How about you and I go for a ride and look at the xmas decorations on the houses. I need to go to the store before it closes first and than we can go." A few minutes later she had forgotten the whole thing. You might try something like that.
When someone is fixated on illness, it can be frustrating to those who live with them or take care of them. However, the person who is creating the drama has some type of need that feeds that drama. Check with your grandmother's doctor and see if some type of dementia might be present. After that, try to discover what your grandmother achieves through the drama. Is it attention or reassurance or just a feeling of being safe and cared for ? Can something else allow her to get whatever she is trying to get without bringing up illness? Just know that she is elderly and has established this set of behavior to the point that it is a habit. I think the issue that concerns me a great deal is the lack of empathy your grandmother is showing for your father. That is what makes me wonder if her stroke has impacted her ability to think realistically. I also wonder if your grandmother is afraid. I know you are frustrated, though. My grandmother was very much like yours, and the fixation on illness drove my mother up a wall. We all miss Grandmother very much now that she has passed away, but we all remember our frustration over her constant drama.
Hello Matilda, (You are the namesake of my Swedish great-grandmother)
Your Grandmother is becoming aware of her mortality and is crying out for appeasement. This is my reading of her. Your Father was very ill, she could have lost him. Don't underestimate the elderly--they have been around a lot longer than we have, remember? The order of death is imminent. She does sound a bit weak and passive aggressive, but that is a behavior of many women of her generation. That's just the way they are.
If she is is a spiritual woman, or has a faith she is interested in, in the last chapters of her life, it may be comforting for her to pursue her beliefs further.
Talking about her life: her ancestors, relationships and or information about siblings, her parents, her own children, etc: may help her to resolve things still in her mind, and help her to come to a conclusion that she has lived a rich life, that has much to be thankful for. If she can verbalize her thoughts and feelings instead of crying, she can process those feelings. You can assist her in this by asking questions, trying to direct the conversation, and by not letting her get away with tears instead of "using her words"! Try it next time and encourage her to talk. She will feel better and you will understand her better! Not too late to create memories.
Top Answer
HI - my take is a little different. I do believe your grandmother is fine. My mother is narcissistic and thus attention seeking. It is a mental illness. She has gone to the ER in one city - been pronouced A1 and got back home and the gone to the ER at home in the same day. They didn't find anything wrong with her either. There is no distracting her, or discussing alternatives -when she makes her mind up that is it. That she can ingnore your father's health sounds like narcissism to me. Mother only gives lip service to the health or personal concerns of others, including me (I have POA), and feels free to call on them to help her no matter their state of health is - that is typical of narcissism. You have to draw boundaries with narcissists - protect yourself and, of course see that their needs are met, but you do not have to cater to every whim. Their "needs"are endless. They have a sense of entitlement to your time and energy. I take periodic breaks for my own health - have to. The constant complaining and negativism is very draining. Mother is 99 and I am 74 so my resources are more limited than they were. You might want to google narcissism and how to deal with it. i think you will find it helpful. Your father obviously need some space to heal. What is the best approach? I don't think you can comfort her - she doesn't want to be comforted - she wants to be the center of attention and gets it by complaining and going to the ER. I have said No to some of mother's demands and she thinks I am a rotten daughter for that, and doesn't hesitate to tell people but that's OK. I am at a distance which makes that easier. I have come to the conclusion that I have to make my own assessment and act accordingly despite the fall out. I have tried the distracting, taking her out, etc and none of it helps. She has been like this all her life. She keeps saying her heart is not good but at 99, in June, they checked her from head to foot and did a hip prosthesis repair with full anaesthetic because her organs were A1 and she is now recovering well. She discharged herself from rehab early because she did not want to do what they told her to do and then made a big fuss about needing help back in her ALF. She should have stayed in rehab till she was more indepedent in my view. Anyway, this is my experience. let us know how you are doing. ((((hugs))))) Joan
Matilda, I think all of the answers that you've received have definite merit. That's great! While I tend to agree with "emjo" (she has a depth of experience that is undebatable), I think that I would start with a mental assessment, just to be on the safe side. You might have to go to several resources to find someone who deals with elderly people. Get a lot of recommendations.

I also agree with RLP in that her behavior has become habitual. (This can be a much more difficult nut to crack.) I also agree with the idea that her lack of compassion for your father is beyond sad, it's just wrong. (Back to narcissism...)

On the other hand, I really like the ideas presented by "christina28". I wonder how much, in our frustration, we actually do listen to our parents (or any elderly people). I know when I get tired of listening to my mom's endless complaining, if I can "distract" her by getting her to talk about something from the past, she really enjoys it. Yes, she is the center of attention, but I'm willing to let that happen, because she is a veritable font of memories about an interesting period in history. You can definitely direct the conversation toward thankfulness, or how people dealt with different things. For example, I'll point out how other senior women have to work, sometimes at a fast food place, and how fortunate she is that she doesn't have to do that. Or that it's really amazing how we've gotten past having a house with many floors and how difficult that would be. "Isn't it nice, Mom, that we don't have to bake our own bread--unless we WANT to?" "Think how nice it is that you don't have to hang clothes out on a line in this winter weather!"

One thing you might try is asking her what she expects the ER people will do if she actually IS dying? Does she really expect to live forever? What if, in the rush to get her there, someone was in an accident? What would happen if she got there and they couldn't see her because something more urgent was happening? Honestly, once I asked my mom if she really believed she was more important than every other person at the hospital? That did silence her for a bit...

Do keep us posted.

My mother was the same for years. "Me estoy muriendo y nadie se da cuenta," blah, blah, blah. Over time I've realized people like have a nasty habit of surviving their children. (She's already buried 2 of us.)

One night, on her "deathbed," she asked me to read her something. She wanted to know what was happening in the world she was supposedly leaving. I "gossiped" about a neighbor across the street whose body always hurt and felt tired all the time. Then I asked what she'd do to make her feel better. Mom said that it sounded like she was faking it, and that she'd put her to clean the house to get the blood flowing.

... I got her a broom.
Thanks everyone for your kind words and support. I think my grandmother's stroke has led to damage in various parts of her brain. A stroke by definition is an illness in which the brain does not receive a sufficient amount of oxgen, thus leading to cell death.This can lead to dementia or dementia like symptoms, ie: confusion, hallucination, loss of memory, etc. Since her stroke, she has gotten a lot more docile. She used to be very critical, preachy, and overly involved in her childrens' lives (particularly her youngest son, whose life is kind of a mess. I think most of us have that one relative who never quite adjusted to adulthood). Now, she's lost interest in everything. It's hard to describe, but I think most elderly people reach a certain age in which they lose interest in and awareness of their surroundings, and get trapped in their own little world. We've tried getting her to read books or newspapers (which she used to love doing), watch television, or call loved ones; sadly she's not even as involved with her beloved spiritual path. Nowadays she just wants someone to sit next to her. She sits there like a bump on a log and expects me (or my dad, he's better at this than me because he's more fluent in her language) to entertain her. Honestly, I don't know what to talk to her about. Although she is not as bad as before, her complaining about her health and how other's treat her hasn't stopped. Unfortunately, she's been an ungrateful complainer her entire life (which begs the question, how did she give birth to 7 children without the use of an epidural or c-section if she can barely handle a little constipation? lol) . And although she wants to go to the hospital all of the time, she never wants to follow through on the doctor's orders. When she was pregnant with my father (in 1960), she would bury her vitamin supplements in the backyard. To this day, she doesn't like taking medicine. She stopped taking her blood thinner, which could lead to another stroke. The last time I took her to the ER, she was crying at home begging me to take her there because she had been constipated for 4-5 days. On the way to the ER she was feeling fine. This is common with her, on the drive to the hospital or pharmacy she is miraculously "healed." The nurse and perhaps a case worker told my parents that unless my grandmother takes her medication, she will no longer be allowed back into the ER. They also told us that if we are too busy to take care of her we should consider putting her into an adult care center. We told them that she'll be going to live with her daughter in England at the end of this month (that's if her paperwork is filed on time). Personally, I'm just trying to do what I think is best for her. She definately needs physical help- food, clothing, shelter. But emotionally, she needs to learn to not be too dependent on others. I don't give into all of her demands- not just for my sake but also for her's. No matter how old we are, I think it's still important to learn to stand on our own 2 feet. If me just talking to her could prevent her from dying, I would have won the noble prize. Plus, if she moves overseas, I won't be there to give her emotional strength. If you're a person of faith, then it's important to learn to turn to God (if you're not a spiritual person, then I guess you'd have to look within yourself) for your deepest needs and desires to be met. Then, you can turn to others with selfless, giving attitude, or "how can I serve and bless you?" rather than a needy attitude of "what can you do for me?"
Thanks for the update...I hope everything works out for the best with your mom... I wonder, though, at her age, if she's going to "learn" anything. I know with my own parents, I just have to remind myself that they aren't going to be around much longer, and to take them as they are--even if it's VERY frustrating at times. Saying a prayer for you...and your mom!
My mother does the 'cry wolf' thing as well. She is still living very independently, but when she knew I had an event coming up, a pending trip, or a fun activity with did not involve her, she was suddenly dying and away she would go to the ER or call me to take her in the middle of my event.

I put up with this for awhile until I just decided it wasn't going to happen any more. I told her the story about the boy crying wolf and she didn't seem to make the connection. Then one trip to the ER, she actually was having a self induced, fully avoidable panic attack. She drank several cokes and then a latte from McDonalds!!! The nurse looked at me and said, can you say caffeine overload for someone with high blood pressure and a slight heart condition?!?!?! I mentioned to her how quickly the ER staff had acted when she presented with real and concerning symptoms. And I asked her to remember back to other trips where they had left her to lay in the ER room for hours on end barely checking on her. Suddenly the light bulb went on and while she wouldn't admit it, I knew she got it.

Now, when she calls - because I'm not giving her the attention she thinks she needs - I tell her to first call the ER and speak with a nurse about her symptoms and call me back. Sometimes she does this and sometimes she doesn't. When I don't hear back, I call in a couple of hours to check on her and either she has forgotten all about it and never mentions it, or reports what the ER nurse told her...usually to monitor her situation and call (NOT come to the ER) if her symptoms get worse. I think a lot of ER nurses must be accustomed to elderly people needing reassurance or just someone (other than the regular caregiver) to listen.

If my mom knows the event is special to me or I'm having a good time, she will sometimes insist on going to the ER. Depending on how she sounds in her voice, I will usually tell her to call an Ambulance, that she sounds particularly bad and she shouldn't wait for me to arrive then transport her. I tell her that I'll be there as soon as I can, but I can't leave right away. I assure her the ER staff and EMT's are well equipped to take care of her until I arrive. is the trick....I somehow work in the cost of the Ambulance and ER and having to deal with all the paperwork. Suddenly, she suggests merely calling the ER nurse. Depending on my mood and how irritated with her I am, I will usually suggest that she err on the side of caution and go on an call the Ambulance. Never once has she called the Ambulance - I think by this time she has had all the FREE attention she wants/needs and doesn't really wish to PAY for attention.

Of course, if I ever even for a minute thought she was in any real danger, I would immediately call the Ambulance myself.
Thanks guys :)

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