My mother sees bugs that are not really there, but swears she is not hallucinating. How do I get her medical help?

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My mother has been seeing bugs (she calls fleas) for over two years. She vacuums constantly and washes clothes continually. Her house is immaculate due to her excessive cleaning. We have even disposed of her complete wardrobe and started over again with he clothing protected by plastic bags and footlockers.

Every exterminator in the area has been to her house. They end treating her house at her insistence after telling her they do not see anything. Nothing shows up on bug traps. The exterminators will not return to her house.

She has scratched herself raw in many areas of her body. She swears she is not hallucinating and will not seek medical help because she is embarrassed by the idea that she has bugs. I am at the end of my rope here since I can not get her to tell her medical or eye doctor.

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Michabele, the original posting was from 5 years ago, I don't believe the original writer is still on-line.

Sometimes an Urinary Tract Infection can cause people to see bugs. My Dad was seeing ants all over his apartment even though there were none. He was tested positive for a UTI, and after taking the required meds those bugs went away :)
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Hi
I am 45.
I am going through something similar now.
Did you find out why?
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I'm with Eddie and Kattie, definitely have your mom checked for side effects of whatever medications she is being prescribed. Plus, you should write down the names of those medications and look up their side effects on the web. This might help you identify if seeing bugs is a result of the medication, then you can go from there and possibly help your mom.
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I'm with Kattie. ... Definitely check out the side effects of whatever medications she's taking. After undergoing life-saving for a car crash in 1996, too much morphine caused me to see parakeets of different colors flying above me. First I tried to grab them, then I was swatting at them because they were pooping on my face. Nurses said there was nothing there. I called them blind.
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The case studies in the Medical Journal of Australia is the best bit I've seen on the disorder. It talks of the cases as being physical and not psychiatric. Some of the psychiatric articles on it are really out in left field IMO.
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Christine, I was reading this morning about bug problems in the elderly and came up with something I feel very relevant -- delusional parasitosis. It is the feeling that little bugs (or dirt) have taken up residence on the skin and in other places. It is caused by other things, of course. The things are usually physical. The good thing is that once the cause is discovered, the symptoms are often treated with fair success. If you google "delusional parasitosis" you can find some information. I also included the word elderly in my search.
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My father was seeing spiders and swatting flies all the time, even was on his hands and knees trying to brush the spiders away. Finally traced it to one of his night meds that he took to sleep, an anti-psychotic Took him off that and no more spiders or flies!.
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Thank you all for your help and I will make an appointment to talk with her doctor. She does have an issue with anxiety. Her consistent housecleaning does appear to be obsessive and I have even mentioned this to her. Mentioning it to her just makes things worse. She is constantly trying to make everyone believe she has bugs in her house and they are biting her. Many of the family members will not call her anymore because they do not want to hear it again.
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Christine, how long has this been going on? I understand that she doesn't want to tell her doctor because of feeling ashamed. However, you can talk to her doctor to let him know. There are a few things the doctor may want to look at.

Older people, especially those with dementia, have trouble with bugs. Sometimes it is caused by a urinary tract infection. Older people sometimes get bladder infections because they have a harder time completely voiding their bladders. Certain medications, e.g. Aricept, have an uncommon side effect of making it hard to void the bladder completely. Even a small bladder infection can cause what looks like psychotic effects in the elderly. So her doctor may want to check for infection. Your mother has so much energy, however, I suspect UTI may not be the cause. Still, it is something to look at.

What your mother is experiencing seems to be going beyond the normal into the realm of obsessive-compulsive behavior. Sometimes people can experience a symptom, then look for a cause of the symptom. Often when someone is older, particularly if there is dementia, they become fixated on the symptom and its cause. This causes great anxiety. The attempts to alleviate the symptom by scratching and cleaning can just make things worse. Older skin is so fragile, thin, and affected by chemicals. It sounds like you may need some professional help to help her reduce the itching and anxiety that it is creating. Please talk to your mother's doctor about this. If he/she doesn't know, there is no way to help.

Tell your mother you will be responsible for throwing out the things that she feels are contaminated. Then when she feels better, you can bring the freshly decontaminated things back in. That should save a lot of money while she is getting better.

Hang in there, Christine. I know this is crazy making for you. And talk to her doctor in confidence. Many of us do that frequently. It is all part of taking care of our loved ones. Sometimes they hide things or are dishonest with their doctors, so we have to provide a truer picture so that they can help.
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My MIL starting itching about 4 years ago and self diagnosed everything from soap allergy to alien implantation and Morgellans. We ruled out everything we could by removing potted plants, going gluten free, changing soap and detergent, etc. The one thing she wouldn't consider changing....her Percocet! I say "oh well, then you aren't itching that badly" and stopped helping as did my husband. She is now in ICU for something else and went in with huge raw places the size of apples on her arms and legs from scratching and it turns out she has had a bacteria on her skin along with the germs under her fingernails the skin bacteria creates an awful cycle of events when she scratches at night. Her skin had become paper thin because of age and it just peeled away and became infected. She is completely healed now after only 3 weeks and doesn't itch at all. The skin problem is from her choice of lifestyle like not changing filters in house frequently, not bathing several times per week and not really washing and cleaning her hands/fingernails. The hospital did stop all gluten products and that will help when she gets home, she isn't allergic to it but gluten causes itching in some elderly folks. Good Luck, the thing to remember is that this is very real to her so if you never figure out the "why" maybe you can prevent any infection or injury from the scratching.
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