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


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)?

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I have a similar situation that I am just beside myself with. My mother cries wolf a lot and after years of running to her house, calling the ambulance only to have her released from the hospital with nothing wrong, I've finally taken a stand and last week I didn't run to her. I called the P.D. in her town to do a wellness check on her to make sure she was ok and of course she wanted to take the ambulance to the hospital. She was released the next day because there wasn't anything wrong. My two other siblings are non existent. My mother lived with my brother for about 6 months but she moved out because my sister-in-law was so controlling and my brother went into a deep depression. He blamed the depression on the fact that my mother was there. My own sister rarely speaks to my mother, so I'm the only one who does the running. As I mentioned after so many years, I just couldn't take it any more. If there were legitimate reasons, I would be there in a heartbeat. Mom is a registered nurse who likes her percocets/pain killers so she knows what to say to the docs in order to get more. I've tried so hard to communicate with her docs to get them to realize that she has a problem, but when one stops prescribing, she just goes to another. The most recent incident of crying wolf has deemed me the "bad daughter" in everyone's eyes because I didn't go and rescue her. Now, my brother won't communicate with me to discuss what happened and my mother is incredibly angry that I didn't go to see her. Brother is in control of all of her finances too. I feel so lost, as if I don't have a family, but then again I don't think I ever did. Can he keep info from me? I still love my mother, but I'm trying to find that balance of taking care of myself and not getting sucked in to her crying wolf all the time.
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My mother has been mentally ill since before I was born. My dad and brother and I "danced the dance" in the family .........always hoping to prevent the next episode. Mom controlled us all - through her wildly fluctuating emotions. Finally, at age 80, after a catatonic episode..........we were able to get her to stay on a medication(Risperdal). People who are severely mentally ill fight like crazy against medications. It's awful. We got her to take Risperdal after placing her once again in a psych ward for 6 weeks - max that insurance will pay.

In 2010 my wonderful dad and brother died - ages 85 and 61 respectively :(
That same year, my sweet husband died :(

My mom is now 90 and lives with me.
She cries "wolf" a lot. In her bag of tricks there is..................shortness of breath, babbling, waking all hours of the night, obsessive compulsive rituals, wheezing, confusion, selective hearing, passive aggressive behaviors.

Here's my problem....................... mom's "symptoms" alarm most people who feel great pity for her as they believe she may be having a stroke or heart attack or dementia or.....etc etc. But I KNOW her. Her "symptoms" come and go at convenient times but when I try to explain this to others..... they look at me like I'm horrible because the poor sweet lady needs help and I'm basically dismissing her symptoms.
One day she will die and guess who will look terrible? Me.
In the end, I will be the bad guy. (That's if I outlive her).

So I'm just wondering if anyone else is battling life long mental illness with their elder charge...................
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just a thought I had once when my mom said she was dying... If you are really on your deathbed, a doctor will alert/call in the family....I also read about some "signs" of a person who is actually really dying, such as feet turning blue, a certain breathing pattern - "cheyne's" I think it is called...something to think about...
What I believe my mother meant is "i feel so bad that it feels like I am dying"
Once when she was clutching her chest I just encouraged her to breathe deep and relax. "are you scared?" I asked her. the nurse came in and took her blood pressure and she was fine. I think it was her anxiety causing her chest pains. So its a fine balance between validating the feelings she is having (fear primarily) and suggesting ways to deal with them; or being angry at the "drama" and trying to get them to stop acting that way.
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My wife is in stage 6 of Alzheimer's and she cry's wolf every day with a pain in her stomach. She says she is dying and the pain is killing her. Doctors can find nothing wrong with her stomach. A family member can drop in for a visit and her pain suddenly goes away. When they leave the pain returns. I can take her for a car ride and the pain goes away. As soon as we return home the pain is back.
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Oh I am having such a good time just reading all these answers. I too can relate and will keep all these tips - such a wealth of good info and support here. you guys are awesome and I cant say how releived I am to have found this resource.
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Thanks guys :)
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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.
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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!
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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?"
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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.
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