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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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I try to distract and change the subject for overly-dramatic complaints. When she does have a real ailment, such as a bad cold and congestions, I don't minimize her suffering. A cold is miserable not matter what are age is
!!! Still, this is difficult, as my mother said recently, "What I had was much worse than a cold!"
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Yes, but I don't think the penchant for excessive testing and overtreatment of symptoms started recently. At least, not in my mother's case. As our parents age, they must depend on us to get more of what they want. Now they must work through us for all the doctor's appointments.
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Are your loved ones who suffer from hypochondria on medication for anxiety? How did you broach this topic with doctor and loved one without being hurtful, disrespectful or selfish?
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Sorry my post was more of a whine than help. If my mother knows that I am sick or my children are sick, she really does her best to quell her own anxiety. Those of you who recommend focusing on someone else's needs are correct. My mother wants to feel useful. Providing a way for the elderly to feel useful helps them and us.
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My mother is 95 and even he own brother, who is 93, no longer wants to talk to her. Her anxiety is endless. Her doctor is a family friend and remembers how good my mother was to his mother. This is so difficult. If you call your mother a hypochondriac, people think you are saying she is a bad person. My mother is a hypochondriac, but a very good person. Her doctor treats her hypochondriasis with one test after another.
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my Mother just turned 74 and this describes her to a T. Its to the point where NOBODY wants to talk to her at all because all she talks about is her meds and her drs. She called me this morning and asked how my day was yesterday
( SHOCKED THE H OUT OF ME because she dosent really care ) as soon as I started to tell her she said speaking of golf I called the drs this morning blah blah blah. Its HARD. I have no answers. Its sad and maddening at the same time.
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Good disscussion. My mom is at 84, less of a hypo than see used to be. Growing up in the depression she was passed around to various relatives. Her father abandoned the family and the kids were put here and there according to who could feed them. Mom never got any attention and as an adult I think her hypo behavior was an attempt for attention. I grew up very calloused to her various ailments. Now she has real stuff to deal with. She talks about it but oddly, not like she used to. I have learned to listen very carefully. A couple of complaints which I was dismissing turned out to be real issues. I'm much more careful now.
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Very enlightening thread! My Mom has been a hypochondriac as far back as I can remember. Our conversations have always revolved around her health or some awful drama in the family, never anything good. This thread just made me realize that Mom has not been complaining much about her own health lately and the chronic calls to her doctors have lessened now that she is caregiver to Dad. I think nancyh brought up a good point. People will focus on themselves unless they are compelled to look outside.
I have an aunt who became a part time elder companion after she retired. She hardly ever complained about her own life. I wonder if being with others in need kept her from falling into that? Not sure where to go with this but it's food for thought.
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My husband with ALZ for about 6 years, complains of every little thing. Last year we made three trips to the ER within a 2 month period to find nothing wrong. Interesting, he was happy as soon as he got to the ER. Talking with his neurologist we believe it is a case of not doing enough to keep his mind busy. On the few days that he gets busy outside in good weather working in the yard, he feels much better and doesn't complain hardly at all. Days when he just eats, sleeps and watches tv are the days he complains most. As far as the ER trips go, the doctor believes he also experiences a panic or anxiety attack believing that something serious is wrong. So he prescribed Lorazapam, light dosage, and if my husband says something about going to the doctor or ER, I explore it with him and then remind him of the pills that the doctor gave us to take care of the situation.

I take his blood pressure first, then if it's okay I give him one of the pills, sit with him and get him to breath deeply to relax and it works. I wonder if a placebo would even work. But I wouldn't do that without the doctor's guidance.
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I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but my Mum has been like this since her mid to late 60's, and now going to be 93 this year. She has always worried about her health, but things got worse when she broke her hip and shoulder seven years ago. She had both of these repaired at the time, then a couple of years ago, had to go through a full hip replacement. I am an only child (70) this year. Thankfully she is in sheltered housing for the elderly and has carers attending to her personal hygiene needs, which is such a good help, but she is now showing signs of deterioration mentally, due to urine infections and TIAs. Very tongue tied, confused, and lacks concentration. I believe she is becoming more and more scared, and so the list of ailments now, the length of my arm. I know there will be a massive gap if anything happens to her, so then along comes the guilt. Btw. We were both widowed young (early 40s), so she was in my and my three kids' life, such a lot. Anyway, think I am more scared than she is that she may end up in a geriatric ward or a nursing home. After reading your posts, have to say, realised that it's not just about me, and it did help. Thanks for listening and Good luck to you all. Ellie R
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I am having the same issues with my husband. He does everything you have mentioned and in addition he has Alzheimer's, White Matter Brain Disease and NP Hydrocephelus. These have been diagnosed and we go to his neurologist every quarter. But in between these he has continual ailments that lead to doctor visits and ER visits. I work full time and this is getting very tiring.
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195Austin, we are trying to do something similar with my Mom and her Dr visits. My Mom is going to write all of her questions down and I am going to go with her to the visits. We are going when the Dr has evening hours and going to be last appointment so he can spend as much time with her as she wants. Both the Dr and I are hoping that we can cover all her "complaints" in that matter.
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With my husband I just had to say no to 6 doc visits a week-he loved the attention one year he got 3 shots for pnuemonia because they were free and he lived in hospitals and rehabs. Maybe her primary could see her once every other month and discuss all her medicial problems at one time. My husband would want to make an appointment with his doc that he had seen 15 min. ago because he forgot to tell her something.
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If she was a great caretaker for your dad, ask her how she handled HIM in similar situations.....
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Your mother doesn't seem to have anyone to take care of at this time except herself, and that is what she seems to be doing. What if you share some of your personal issues such as few aches and pains or just everyday life problems? Try sending notes to her instead of calling if you get frustrated with daily contact, but find her other people or causes to focus on instead of herself. As you stated, your mom has always been a caretaker and may feel useless because she has no one to look after. She is blessed to have you caring about her. Best wishes.
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Thank you for the great responses on this; I can relate to what each and everyone has said here. JessiBelle, my Mom is a worry-wart by nature, which I know does not help her mental state at all. And emio, I think my Mom DOES want attention. I have a brother and sister who do not pay much attention to her and I think she sees this as a way to get their attention,
It makes it frustrating for me as I do not know why my siblings have such a disinterest- and it leaves me doing the daily calling, visits, trips to Doctors and store- basically all of her needs, But THAT is a horse of a different color so don't get me started on that; ha, ha!

Tusconlady, my Mom has every testing apparatus available to keep track of these things. They are great things to have but sometimes she obsesses on these and (for instance) takes her blood pressure every 15 minutes and then gets all upset if one of her readings is a hair above normal. She gets sort of OCD at times.

But Tusconlady and Naheaton bring up good points saying to get her interested in something else. There are many activities she has done in the past (painting, knitting, crafts); I will try and think of something that I can get her interested in. Maybe I can start out with it being a project her and I can do together.

I love my Mom so much- she has always been the "caretaker" - for my dad when he was terminally ill 20 years ago and then for her handicap sister for many years. I want to take care of her now that she is older. I am trying to learn how to work full-time (I am only 55 so I have many years left before I can retire) and be there for her when she needs it.

I just feel so alone as all of my friends have not experienced any of this with their parents yet. So just knowing that there are others here that do understand my concerns helps a lot!!
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Makes me suspicious that your mum doesn't want to take the doctor's suggestions and to me looks like she wants/needs attention. Mother has gone from one emergency room to another in the same day and been pronouced A! in both. I think some of it is age, and some personality. I haven't been successfuly in deflecting mother from any of her concerns. I am 74 and there definitely are more "aches and pains" than there used to be. One has to deal with them. I retired last year, and now wonder how I kept going, but also know the distraction was good for me. Now I have to work harder to get my mind on other things. It is a good solution if you can work it.

naheaton - right on about helping others - we benefit by it. and chalking up stuff to whatever and moving on.. You don't have to be a pain just because you have a pain.
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:)
grannidi, your mother sounds like half of the older women I've known. My mother does it. She complains daily about aches and pains -- I consider that normal. But she goes into the spells where she will fixate on something, then end up having a lot of tests that show nothing is wrong. As a caregiver, it can be hard to know what to do. We suspect it's all imagination, but what if something is really wrong? So we run ourselves ragged, getting them to all the appointments. Personally, I get aggravated because I know that nothing is really wrong.

I think a lot of it is anxiety in the case of my mother. She is a worry wart by nature, so she'll worry and get more anxious about something. In her case, I wish I could find some respectful way to stop the escalating anxiety. I think naheaton's advice is spot on in encouraging them to do something that gets their mind off themselves. (I wish that would work with my mother.)
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Maybe get her some at-home testing kits so she can use those and check her own vital signs....i.e blood pressure kit and/or a pulse oximeter that fits over a finger and checks the pulse and blood oxygen level. That way she'll feel more in control and can see with her own eyes that she's OK.

Or, when she launches into another medical conversation, make sympathetic sounds and then change the subject. If she makes the appointments, try to bail out with your own "911" issues and tell her to call a cab. She needs to get her head wrapped around something else, like favorite TV shows, puzzles, knitting...something!! I can relate: my MIL is almost 99 and now is completely consumed with calling the doctor even though nothing is wrong with her except old age aches and pains. We just keep changing the subject or we just don't respond. Hey! My stepdaughter is 25 and sounds like her grandma....if it isn't one thing, it's another....runs in the family I guess. Hope this helps.
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My mother-in-law who is 87 told me recently, that nothing works like it did before. Her body has become her enemy, not to mention her brain, since she has no short term memory either. If your mother is sitting around day after day and all she's doing is taking mental notes of everything that's not working properly anymore, it's no wonder she's driving herself crazy. Even at my age (59) if I allow myself to sit and fixate on why in the world will my thumb NOT bend all the way in the morning, I'd drive myself crazy too. So I chalk it up to old age and arthritis (which stinks) and move on anyway. Point is, maybe mom needs more things to do and think about. Us humans are pretty self absorbed anyway as a whole, so if she can get her mind off herself more often, that would be a good thing. The best way I know how to stop thinking about oneself, is to help someone else. Just a thought.
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