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My grandmother (83) has early to mid-stage Alzheimer's and moved into an independent retirement facility a few months ago. Before her move, and since, she calls me several times a day reporting that she feels "sick". I try to get her to list symptoms, and sometimes they include headache, sore abdomen, dry mouth, shaky, and/or tired, but more often she describes it as "just plain sick" or "very, very tired" and "no appetite". Every day it is "the worst day yet", but when the symptoms and feeling of sickness disappear later in the day, as they often do, it's as though it never happened. In the past, she would call me several times and insist on going to the Emergency Room or the doctor's office. I would leave work to pick her up, but when I'd arrive and ask how she was doing, she'd say "Oh, fine!". If I'd say "Oh, you weren't feeling well earlier" (as in 15, 20 minutes ago), she'd say "Oh, wasn't I?!" as though it had never happened. On the other hand, it can sometimes last all day no matter what I try or whether or not I visit, or for more than a day at a time.


Some people have suggested she wants me to come over; I don't believe this to be the case, at least not consciously. Many times my going over doesn't help her feelings of illness. I worry she is somehow in a kind of loop - she's always checking her calendar, counting the number of days each month that she's been sick, and fixating on it (she operates primarily on notes in her day-to-day life - the only way she can really remember anything like instructions or reminders, etc., is by reading her notes). So I don't know if this can make it happen in a sense? Either way, it's extremely confusing and stressful, and sometimes she is almost crying on the phone and there's nothing I can do, making me feel really powerless to help. I try to get her to engage herself in a book, activity, etc., to take her mind off it, but after awhile she gets frustrated by that and says I don't believe her, "it's physical" or "it's real, why will no one help me".


Has anyone else experienced this constant "sickness" in someone with dementia or have any insights into dealing with it? I am going to meet with a geriatric psychiatrist today, so hopefully she can help.

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i was wondering about blood sugar as well, but I had to get off of blood pressure med some years ago because it was making me dizzy. The end of that med came when I got up one morning and literally fell over onto the floor. (I did try it again some months later and sure enough, within a day I was dizzy again.) Could it be a food sensitivity to something she has for breakfast??
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I think your grandmother is at a dangerous stage transition to severe Alzheimer's, which experience frequent (at least 1-2 times a week) nightmares, night sweats, or early morning hallucinations. That will make her very confused and very low energy during day time. If she does not get help now, she will become severe case without memory of families, daytime salivation, and possible losing bladder and bowel movement control at night, etc.
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Feeling lousy is also a symptom of depression. And those with dementia are prone to depression as their brains shrink. This is why many neurologists put dementia patients on antidepressants early in their disease. Talk with Mom's neurologist.
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A person with dementia is ill. Although, she may be blowing illnesses out or proportion or perhaps she really isn't physically sick at all.
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If mother is a Type II diabetic, I'd have the staff ensure that her blood sugar is indeed low, before drinking juice or eating extra carbs, because, high blood sugar can you make you feel sick too. So, maybe logging her daily a.m. blood sugar would be helpful, so they can confirm whether it's okay, too high or too low.
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Something Garden Artist said in the first comment prompted me to add that sometimes a very full breakfast, combination of foods, or the order in which eaten can have some effect on a person. When I was growing up my sister and I were given a glass of orange juice as the first breakfast item; I never felt quite right afterward, and it was only years later I realized that drinking juice at the end of the meal seemed to work much better for me. In addition, a big breakfast can make some people feel sluggish. Finally, some people simply don't tolerate a large breakfast (or, for some people, any breakfast at all). In any case, this might be something to consider.
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In my mother's experience, she was taking anxiety meds before the dementia was diagnosed. We were in awe at how crazy she was acting- mixing up stories from different decades and insisting I was there when I hadn't even been born. Granted she does have high anxiety but in most cases anxiety comes from depression. The doctor explained that xanax (or any benzodiazepines) makes dementia worsen that it is far safer for their mental status to try an antidepressant to fix the issue rather than to medicate as a bandaid. There is also more of a fall risk with benzodiazepines.

This is only our experience but it is worth checking all avenues. I hope you figure it out.
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Yes, my 93 year old Mom experienced the same thing & still does occasionally. Hers was stomach pain to the point she was sure she was experiencing appendicitis or gall bladder attack. Then it was constipation & her bowels must be blocked. To & from doctor & hospital. Always in the mornings! Long story short - much of it is depression & anxiety. That seems to go hand in hand with dementia/alzheimer. The doctor prescribed an anxiety med for her & we have tweaked it & changed it twice. She is now on Mirtazapine/Remeron since moving into AL that seems to be working extremely well. She has adjusted to her new home, loves community & feeling needed & now rarely complains. It is such a sad time to watch your loved one feel so bad & be helpless. You are doing all the right things, but you will have to persevere with the doctors pushing the fact that she needs anxiety meds or perhaps a different one. There are many out there to try, finding the right ones can take time. Best wishes & hugs in your arduous journey. I'm right there with you!
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Have you considered that it could be her morning medication? Some meds need to be taken with a full glass of water. If she is not doing that, then she could be experiencing some symptoms for that.
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Hi MDM,
I have been diabetic since I was 11, for 43 years now, so I know a LOT about it! 🙂
I bet your moms blood sugar level is too low in the mornings and that would definitely make her feel " sick all over", no appetite and tired,among other bad feelings. I get that same way when I wake up and my blood sugar is too low, usually around 70 or lower. I usually drink 1/2 cup of juice, which raises the blood sugar level within about 12 minutes, and after about 30-45 minutes, all those bad feelings I was having just disappear and it's like all of a sudden it's a completely different day!
I saw a tv show once about a guy that adopted a mini chihuahua. The little dog was very unresponsive and would just lay around the house all day and not want to interact. The owner brought him to several vets that couldn't find anything wrong. Finally a new vet checked the cute little puppy's blood sugar and discovered it was too low. The vet gave it some sugar in water and suddenly the dog became a preppy, happy and normal dog!
The dog was suffering from hypoglycemia ( the opposite of diabetes) and needed some carbohydrates at each meal!
After the discovery, he became the real dog he was always meant to be!
So maybe the nurses could bring some juice or candy to your mom every morning? Fruit? Fruit juice? Anything she likes, just to get her blog sugar to rise. Best of luck to you! 😇
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I kept reading all the posts to see if a change in medications was mentioned. :-) I am care give for both parents and I keep a very close eye in the medications they have them in, I read ALL the side effects etc. As they age their or in general, I have had to change their medications due to side effects. We just backed off a medication for my Mom.
It really makes me wonder why so many old people have falls etc.its not always "old age" sometimes it's all the medications
Prayers for you and you Mother
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What services are available for your mother at her “Independent” living facility. Most provide meals, housekeeping, limited transportation. Is there someone who can take your mother to breakfast ( may be available for additional paymen) There are activities but all participation is voluntary. Many people with moderate progressing dementia get lost and continue to deteriorate . She may be better off in a Memory Unit where there is more structure and staff actively brings residents to activities.
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It is always a good idea to check with the pharmacist and doctor, but it may be that this "sickness" is just a phase in her dementia. My mother (almost 91, in memory care for almost two years and now late state AD) went through a time about four years ago when she constantly said she was coming down with "a doozy of a cold". She was already in assisted living by this time, but she always wanted me to bring her some medicine. The care staff would check her temperature and listen to her lungs. When questioned about symptoms, she denied a sore throat, cough, headache or runny nose. Once when we were on the way to a doctor's appointment, she told me about coming down with a cold. A few minutes later in the exam room, I asked the doctor to check her for cold symptoms, at which point she denied having ever mentioned a cold! The doctor found no evidence of a cold. I think that the "cold" was just a way to get attention. She would forget that she had complained about it within minutes and then it would occur to her to try it again. This went on for a few months until she settled on something else to complain about.
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Thanks JoAnn - yes, we found a facility that has scaleable care. Individual services can be added as needed, and they also have a dedicated floor for "Memory Care" once it gets to that point, as I know it will. Through speaking to her neurologist, the staff at the facility, and through my own observations, we decided that independent would work best for her at the time she moved in, especially because she is physically very healthy. I know that probably sounds weird in light of this thread, but she actually is incredibly healthy, spry and capable. It's just this odd "sickness" thing that throws a wrench into everything!

I had an appt. yesterday and she will be going on an anti-anxiety; I've made an appointment to talk to her doctor about the Metformin as well as a couple of other things suggested by the pharmacist; and there are a few other things on my list to try. Fingers crossed one of these will work.

My fear at this point is that it's completely psychological and she is just stuck in a loop, like Sorrynotsorry said. It did kind of start happening after she was in the hospital a couple of years ago, after she had already been diagnosed with dementia. She had a collapsed lung that needed to be treated and was in the hospital for a week, but didn't know how many days she was in and was just incredibly confused and disorientated by the whole affair. After that point is, I believe, when the frequent complaints of illness, wanting to go to the ER, etc. started. She would beg my grandpa (who was still alive at the time) to call the ambulance and then, many times, she would miraculously be fine when the ambulance arrived or when she got to the hospital. All very confusing for my grandpa, myself and, undoubtedly, my grandma as well.

Because it is a scaleable facility, they do (kind of) help me deal with all of this, without needing to yet put her on the Memory Care floor. At this point I think that would be more detrimental. However, until we can do some more investigating, even the staff don't really know what to do.
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You said "Independent living". My impression of independent living is the person can care for themselves. Just gets meals and activities included. If this is so, she may need an assisted living facility. Her dementia will not get better.
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They do get stuck in loops. If not being sick it might be something else. Sometimes for years
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OMGosh--my hubby takes Metformin and is sick every single morning. He knows it's the Metformin and that almost makes it worse. After the initial am dose and the ensuing sickness (bloating, diarrhea, sometimes vomiting)..he slowly settles down and it OK the rest of the day.

Definitely check on that!!
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Oh my gosh, thank you everyone for your answers! Sunnygirl - I went to a geriatric psychiatrist yesterday and she is going to prescribe an anti-anxiety. I do think this will be helpful, since my grandma has always been an anxious person and I believe the dementia is making it worse.

However, this Metformin idea is a fantastic one, JessieBelle! I'm going to call the pharmacist right now, and then look into seeing an endocrinologist. I have to check what time she takes the Metformin, because she is usually sick in the morning - if it's a morning pill, then that seems like a solid lead! I'll also ask the pharmacist if there are any other concerns he might have, as you suggest GardenArtist.

Thanks so much for the ideas - I will let you know how it goes. Perhaps this could help your mom as well, Nomad!
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Hmmm, my mother also often complains of being "sick" but not being able to be specific, just "all over" and she also takes Metformin. And as well it's usually in the morning. Maybe we're on to something?
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Mdm, when you said Metformin, it was an Aha moment for me. My mother took Metformin until she was about 88. She had this habit of munching crackers at night and taking extra Metformin. Bad idea! Too much Metformin can cause nausea, gas bloating, and general bad feeling in the tummy. The drug is not recommended for people 80 or older, because their livers can have a hard time processing it. If you think the Metformin could be making her feel bad, talk to the doctor. Or better yet, make an appointment with an endocrinologist to look over your mother's diabetes treatment. People with diabetes are allowed by insurance to have one consult each year. The most constructive appointment I've had with a doctor has been with an endocrinologist, who took my mother off the Metformin and (in her case) divided her Levemir dosages into two shots a day, rather than one. That got rid of the queasy feeling she got from the Metformin.

My mother's misuse of Metformin caused so much trouble. We went to several doctors to find what the problem could be. The only thing anyone found was lots of bubbly gas in her intestine. It wasn't until I counted her pills that I realized what was wrong. No wonder she was sick!

Some elders can be bothered by Metformin. A good endocrinologist may be able to pick something that will work better with your mother.
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MCM, have you checked not only the side effects of the meds she's taken but potential interactions? One can't always rely on doctors for side effects advice, especially if the meds are prescribed by different doctors. One doctor who should have known about the interaction of coumadin and diflucan prescribed the latter, eventually sending my father to the hospital with internal hemorrhaging b/c diflucan enhances the coumadin effects.
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Thank you for your response, JessieBelle - that sounds very much like my experience! I've also felt/still feel that there's something I should be doing, but, yes, the doctors say she is fine.

I agree that the mornings are probably the worst for her, so thanks for pointing that out - maybe if she was engaged in some way first thing in the morning, it would help get her over that slump.

She takes Metformin for diabetes and Coversyl for high blood pressure (and Galantamine for dementia). She actually seems to be in very good physical health, though - she is very agile, spry, and has no other serious health conditions. Her diabetes is managed with the medication, and the high blood pressure I'm not too familiar with - she was taking that before I got involved in her care 2 years ago so I am not sure on the history of that.

I should book an appt. with her GP to ask whether something can be changed in her medication that might help with this.
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Maybe I can be a little help here, Mdm. Sometimes I say my mother has made a late life career of being a sick person. She has been sick every day for at least 8 years. I used to worry that there was something I was missing and something I could do. It was frustrating. If you asked where she felt sick at, she would say she felt sick all over, or simply say she just felt sick. There was no way to zoom in on anything specific that was wrong. The doctors would say she was fine.

After a while I noticed that she always feels worse in the morning. Normally as the day wears on, she starts to feeling better. There are some days when she doesn't, but most days she is okay. We just have to make it through the morning. I think that in the morning she is a little dizzy and it gives her a sense of being sick. Many people are the same way about mornings.

Some things that could be relevant -- Is your mother diabetic and on oral medication? Is she on blood pressure medication? These things can have an effect on how people feel.
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Based on what I have seen, some people with dementia may obsess over things that worry them. My LO worried over other people and her cat. She was constantly worrying about how they were, where they were, were they sick, injured or safe. She would cry she would be so concerned and reassuring her only had temporary success, because she would forget what you just told her. Her doctor prescribed a daily med. In her case Cymbalta and it was like a miracle. She stopped with the anxiety and worrying. She became quite content and was still quite alert too. I'd discuss with her doctor.

I'd also consider that she may need more consistent reassuring. Can the staff do that where she is? My LO told me that she was scared a lot. She said that things were changing and she seemed to be in a dream. No doubt, things can be scary. I wonder if having staff who are available to give her redirection and comfort would help.

I'd also consider that her reports of issues could be delusions. I might discuss with her doctor and ask for a geriatric psychiatrist referral.
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Thanks for the quick replies. We have done blood work, urinalysis etc., and the doctor said everything is fine. And, yes, I'm always sure to acknowledge her feelings, say I'm sorry you're feeling sick, if you're not better by tomorrow, we'll go to the doctor, etc., and have taken to calling her every hour or two to get her to drink a glass of water. She's gotten to the point now where even when I say these things, she's frustrated and just wants answers or wants it to go away now, and brings up how long it has been like this.

I try to find out what she's eaten in the morning, but she doesn't remember. I had her make a food chart when she lived at home, but now it's more difficult, as she goes down to the dining room for meals.

Perhaps I will ask the dining room attendants to keep a closer eye on what she's eating, but of course they are very busy! Thank you the book recommendations - I will look the author up. I will also see if a doctor can look into the anomalies you speak of in her blood work, rather than just conducting the general, run-of-the-mill tests.

It's also good to know that obsession, and awaking with anxiety, can be a typical thing at this stage.

Thanks!
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I would use validation strategies from Naomi Feil (look up her books). Acknowledge her feelings, they are real to her. "I am sorry you are not feeling well, maybe you picked up a virus. Drink plenty of water and rest. I will bring you chicken soup when I visit. We can check with the doctor if you are not better soon."

Obsession is fairly normal at that stage. At least this is a mild obsession ;-) One thing is for certain... This too shall pass.
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I haven't experienced it but my first thought is what is she having for breakfast? If she's in IL, I assume she either fixes breakfast for herself or someone comes in and fixes it for her?

It's easy to become glum and depressed if the day isn't begun with a good, nutritious breakfast, or if just quick breakfasts are eaten.

It's also not unusual to awake to a new day with feelings of anxiety, and that can apply to caregivers too.

You can see a psychiatrist, but I'd also see a PCP or geriatric doctor and have blood work drawn. There might be some anomalies that can cause low energy levels in the morning. I know; I speak from experience.
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