How can I stop the drama queen from her drama?

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I have been taking care of my mother and father for 2 years in their home. My father is 91, very frail and withdrawn. My mother is 85, diabetic, and in failing health. Things are normally very quiet and boring around the house. There is nothing they enjoy doing much. They are hermits, so don't like people coming in. Even though things are quiet, there is a lot of drama going on. Lately it has been on the increase.

My mother is forgetful and confused, though not diagnosed with anything. We had a few incidents of drama she creates in the past. Since Thanksgiving she has been doing things every two weeks. It usually starts on Saturday, when she begins fretting over something. By Sunday she has worked herself up into a tizzy, then on Monday morning she gets on the phone to call in outside help. One time it was imagining my father had skin cancer, which took us to a trip to an oncologist for no reason. This seems trivial, but it wasn't since my father is agoraphobic with a great fear of doctors. Another time she began to fear the water heater was going to burn the house down, so she called an emergency plumber, who charged $2400 to replace the water heater! and spilled water all over the floor. Then she followed his advice to call in a flood cleanup company, who charged $5600 to clean up a little water.

The last time she was fretting about who was going to bathe my father, so called her doctor. He sent in a home health team, who have been in the house everyday for the greater part of the day. This has put both my father and her under tremendous emotional stress. She spends the day complaining about the stress she created.

Today she started fretting about the smell coming from the freezer. There is nothing unusual. I told her I would clean the refrigerator next week, but she is determined to call the repair company. I can already say that this is going to end up meaning a new refrigerator. People will tell her nothing is wrong, but she will not accept it.

I wish I could rip the phone out of the wall. Today I told her no, do not call them, that I was tired of the drama. I know there has to be something going on that makes her feel she has to keep everything stirred up. She won't listen to anyone, then gets on the phone. I'm at a loss about how to handle this short of assisted living. I always end up having to deal with the messes, because she no longer has the capacity to do it.

I don't know if anyone has any experience in dealing with a drama queen. I don't know why she needs to do it. It is very expensive and nerve-wracking, so I need to find some way to get her to stop.

Answers 1 to 4 of 4
Expert Answer
3930 helpful answers
It sounds to me like your mother is developing a form of dementia or a mental illness. I'd suggest that she see a brain specialist or a psychiatrist. You can "sugar coat" the appointment if you need to by saying they want to check her cardiovascular system (they would for vascular dementia), or something else that makes sense to you. But I do feel she needs medical attention.
Good luck with this - it's got to awful for you.
Carol
Oh, Jessie, how awful! That amount of drama is incredible. A few years ago our water heater burst, flooded the basement, and we had to have a plumber and a water damage control firm. It was extremely disruptive to the household and painfully expensive. The episodes you describe are not trivial!

Poor Mom is delusional. I strongly endorse Carol's advice to find out why. Once you know the probably causes you will be in a better position to deal with it.

Meanwhile, the usual advice for dealing with delusional people is to recognize their reality, don't try to reason them out of it, acknowledge their distress, distract and redirect. I can see that you'd have your hands full applying this, but maybe it is worth a shot.

"Oh Mom! That is terrible that the fridge smells bad. And it isn't even that old. You must be worried sick. You poor dear, you just have so much to handle, don't you? I don't smell it, but your sense of smell must be stronger than mine. But I'll bet that means it is not too bad yet. Let's do this. We'll put special thermometers in the freezer and in fridge, and you will look at them and write down the temperatures every hour. That will help us figure out where the problem is coming from. We'll call Happy Housecleaners and schedule their first opening for a thorough cleaning and disinfecting of the entire fridge. It sounds like there may be a piece of food stuck in a vent. It is a good thing you are a strong person because you certainly have had a lot to deal with, haven't you? blah blah blah"

Since she won't take a professional's word for it that nothing is wrong, I'm not sure how successful you can be getting her to accept a less dramatic solution to her "problem." But MAYBE knowing that you are on her side, that you take her seriously, and that you care about her distress will help.

She seems to have a strong sense of impending disaster. And in one way she is right -- certainly losing one's cognitive abilities is disasterous. Something is very wrong in her life, but it isn't the heater or the refrigerator, alas.

Best of luck to you as you continue to deal with this very challenging situation. Let us know how this progresses.
Thank you, Carol. I woke up this morning feeling a bit better, but I am still feeling like someone beat me. I have really known that she has something like dementia beginning, but I haven't been able to get her to be tested. I mentioned it to her doctor's assistant, but they haven't done anything. Sometimes I think the best way to handle it would be just to come out and ask her directly if she thinks she has it. Maybe if she admitted it, we could get treatment for her.

Something else I considered last night -- she told me about the things she was fretting about, but I did not react as strongly as she hoped. Could she feel that people are not paying enough attention to her concerns? I wondered if this may be an extreme in attention seeking behavior. I hope there is some way we can help her.
One thing we can depend on in caregiving is there will be change. My father's mind seems to have left him today. He is tired and weak, so I am thinking of seeing if we can get hospice here, which packs its own psychological punch. My mother is more focused on my father today, wondering if he may have had a silent stroke. Personally I feel that he is just worn out with all that has been going on. I went to get his favorite fish for lunch and he ate well.

For now I am doing things that need to be done -- my income taxes. I know that I'll be muddling through theirs this year, too. That will be challenging, since I know only a little of their finances. Secretly I just want to run away somewhere and hide. I hope I'll get a better night's sleep tonight and feel better tomorrow.

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