How can I better handle my mom's hypochondriac tendencies?

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My mother is 76 years old and lives in senior housing and does fairly well on her own. She sometimes needs help in going to the store or doctor's appointments, etc. Her frequency in wanting my help is increasing and I can see she is deteriorating somewhat, which I know is to be expected as she ages. The change I have noticed the most is that she is becoming a sort of hypochondriac.
She complains of one ailment and is certain she has something serious that will require surgery and fixates on what she thinks is going to happen to her. She sees the doctor, has several tests run-only to find it is nothing of consequence. Then a week or so later she will come up with symptoms of another ailment and she starts the cycle all over again.
On things that have been found (for example she had hip pain that she was sure needed a replacement, but what was found was a bit of arthritis that the doctor said was not abnormal for her age) her doctor has suggested things like physical therapy, but she wants no part of suggestions such as these.
Has anyone experienced this with their aged parents or loved one? If so could you give me some advice on how you dealt with it? I do not want to discount her complaints but am getting confused as to what could or could not be something serious.
Thank you!

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Thanks, Jessie Belle. Yes, indeed, I've gotten pretty good at saying "no"! Which doesn't stop her from badgering.

She does have some ailments, but nothing even as major as diabetes. She just won't hear how good her health really is!
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Lisa, your mother sounds so much like mine that I wonder if yours has vascular dementia or something similar. They can really bully us into doing something about what they think is wrong. I finally started saying no to mine. She was abusing both Medicare and me. One trouble is that she cried wolf so often that I worried I would miss it if something were really wrong with her. She does have some ailments -- vascular dementia, diabetes, hypertension, and spinal stenosis. All the rest of it has either been in her head or self inflicted.

My mother's ailments were easily "cured" when her doctor retired. Her new doctor was not so much to her liking, so she didn't want to see the doctor so much anymore. Your mother likes the hospital, though, so retiring doctors wouldn't help. The only thing I can think of is to say no, she doesn't need to go. The ER is only meant for emergencies, like heart attack, stroke, or trauma. Lesser things can be treated at Urgent Care if they need treating at all. It's a lot cheaper and faster.

Of course, the cheapest and fastest remedy is to say No whenever you know she is crying wolf. You'll probably worry that something may really be wrong this time, but most likely it won't.
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I moved in to take care of my mom two years ago. When she was younger, she was cheerful, social, and health-conscious; then, at the age of 72 (twelve years ago), she fell and broke a hip, and from that time on she has been an obsessive hypochondriac. During one period a few years ago she visited the Emergency Room 21 times in a 14 month period. In 2012, she was taking so many medications that they sent her into a tailspin; she spent a month in a coma, and another five months recovering. Two years ago my stepfather died and I took over her care.

She starts every morning telling me everything that's wrong with her. She demands that I (or the paid caregiver who covers me when I'm at work) take her to the hospital at least three times a week. We've tried everything - at least four kinds of anti-anxiety/anti-depressant medications (most of which just made her loopier without correcting the hypochondria), giving her hobbies, taking her out to places, etc., but she doesn't enjoy any of it because she can only obsess about her imaginary ailments. She'll wake me up in the middle of the night and tell me I have to take her to the hospital RIGHT NOW. I have a very hard job and can't get by on four hours of sleep a night.

I can't take much more of this. She's lucid enough (no Alzheimer's) that she would know exactly what's happening if I put her in an assisted living facility, but her paid caregiver and I are just at our wits' end. Sometimes there's just no easy answer.
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Goodness this sounds familiar. My mother in law lives with us and she is forever obsessing over the smallest of complaints. Unfortunately we are all she has as her sharp tongue, self-centeredness, and gossipmongering have caused serious rifts with the rest of the family and her surviving friends. These are traits that she has always had but they have gotten much worse with age.

I feel bad about wasting resources with endless doctor trips (we are quite rural and she prefers a doctor in a neighboring state so getting her there is a project indeed. My sister in law used to handle the doctor trips and unfortunately started the precedent of making them a holiday with treats and meals out . I think much of Miss P's hypochondria is attention seeking and part of her power and control issues where my husband and I are concerned. She resents and dislikes me for my relationship with her son and tries to drive wedges between us. Still she realizes we are all she has left.

I have tried to address this problem in several ways:

First if she has what is obviously a minor complaint we do not make an appointment with her doctor. We go to the local urgent care clinic and see a PA. It is not an occasion for treats and shopping and meals out but all business there and back. In balance we try to create outings for her not related to doctor trips. If she's stewing on something and refuses to go, we go without her.

If she has a bad fall or something that might be serious we go to the ER. If she's bluffing she'll decline to go but that is the only choice we offer. She sees her regular doctor for scheduled appointments only.

I always catch the nurse or PA privately and warn them to beware of med seeking. She takes what I think (informed opinion: i worked with drug addicts for 25 years) is an excessive amount of benzodiazepenes for "anxiety" -- will not participate in biofeedback or CBT or try any strategies to manage her anxiety. So she continually complains that her symptoms "make her nervous" in hopes of getting more benzos. If I dont watch her she tries to get others to give her prescription meds and feels,a pill is the only answer to a problem. She will not follow doctors orders,unless it involves taking more pills. So part of my strategy is to insist she follow all instructions,yo the letter for at least two weeks before we go back to the doctor. If she doesn't we don't go and i tell her there is no sense going to the doctor if she won't do what he says to do.

We do not let her self-manage meds, but fill a weekly pill organizer for her.

We do not entertain long dithering conversations about minor health complaints. We try to redirect her thinking into gratitude for what is essentially very good health for a 90 year old. If she persists we either change the subject or simply leave the room. Same with gossip or running family members down. When she talks positively and about current reality we are all ears and participate with lots of attention.

We take good care of ourselves and our relationship by talking frequently and helping each other stay out of her manipulation and games. We cant get away -- we farm and are always working and there is no one left willing to provide us,with respite care. It is exhausting living in the middle of a behavioral intervention all the time but I send my husband on hunting and fishing trips with his friends when it gets too much for him and take over his chores,for him. I go to daily Mass and spend a lot of time outside when things get rough.

Bless all you devoted caretakers!
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I get the same feeling with my mother, taylor. Going to the doctors is like getting attention that she needs. She has always pushed people away, so never made friends. Having friends means a two-way exchange -- giving and receiving caring. Friendships can be challenge for an avoidant person. With doctors it is one way and you hope the doctor cares about you.

I also think there is the fear of death that comes in. Going to the doctor is maybe a way to keep death from sneaking up on them. When you're old and confused, little things can look life threatening.
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JessieBelle, My mother was for-sure a worrier. She had a pretty tough life, raising kids on her own, etc. I guess worrying became a way of life. But here is something I wonder about: My mother was not nurturing when I was a child, to say the least. I guess she couldn't give what she didn't have. It seems this is the type of mother who becomes demanding in certain ways as they age. Sometimes I think my mother's hypochondria is an attempt to get that empty cup filled. At any rate, mothers who were emotionally healthy with their own children seem to fare better in old age.
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Sunnygirl, I like that term -- thick file disease. I know a lot of people are going through this. I wonder if people who had parents who were hypochondriacs found they also worried about everything else, like things around the house. It can be like living with Chicken Little, looking for the sky to fall.
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Sunnygirl, Thank you so very much for your response. Just being heard - that helps a lot. :)
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Taylorgirl, I do feel for you. I have dealt with it for years with one of my family members. It is very difficult for the person, because in their mind, they really are ill, in pain, sick, etc. But, it's also disturbing to family members, because we have to deal with it, listen to constant ailments, rush to ER many times only to be told, nothing is wrong, and watch as they see multiple doctors who they think are incompetent, because they can't find anything wrong with them. Does this sound familiar?

It's surprising how many people deal with this condition. I have read on this site that it's sometimes referred to as "thick file disease." My dad had a form of it, with Conversion Disorder for a few months. He went on medication, saw psychiatrist and is doing great. Only a little relapse in 2 years.

But, my mom will not take medication and will not see psychiatrist. She's miserable, with all kinds of imaginary ailments, but I see no way to get her help. She is in denial.

If someone is willing to accept diagnosis and get treatment, therapy, meds, etc. It's still a very challenging condition to treat.

The only thing that I have done is stop coddling and even discussing her ailments. If it goes on and on, I'll say, if you feel it's necessary call your doctor. But, other than that, I won't discuss her ailments. I do talk with her, am positive and loving when she is not discussing her ailments. I'm not sure it matters. It still continues.

If you are thinking that your mom needs assisted living or nursing home, I might discuss it with her doctor. He may have a whole different take on what her actual health is. And I'd have an assessment done to determine just what her needs are. That would let you know what type of assistance that she would need.

I do think that my mom's ailments are less pronounced when she is around other people, talking, engaged, etc. If your mom might be more active, it might help, but if she contends that she is too sick to be active......that's a problem.
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My mother complains constantly of various health issues, and it stresses me no end. I feel horrible for her cause she has a history of depression, and now her eyesight is going. She is virtually blind. She lives alone, and she can't drive. She is okay mentally, but at times she is 'foggy'. - I don't live in the same town as my mother, nor can I move there due to my job. She is always unhappy when she calls, and always sick. And I honestly don't know how much of the 'sick' is imagination and anxiety. I don't know what to do, or where to turn. She would be even more miserable to live with me; I work many hours and she doesn't know anyone here. Her church is not here. I can't live in her town, cause my job is here. Is it time for a nursing home? I don't know what to do.
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