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Mother's anxiety getting worse
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cjh1203 posted:
I'm not sure this is the correct board, because I'm not really a caregiver, but this is about my 80 year-old mother.

She is in mostly excellent health and physical and mental condition. She exercises regularly, is learning advanced Spanish (having conquered French a few years ago), reads a lot, uses the computer a lot, plays word games, does crosswords, sews, etc. She is energetic and watches what she eats. She has had no chronic health problems, ever, and takes almost no medication.

She has always had problems with anxiety, sometimes severe. She has a history of panic attacks, but has not had any for a couple of years. She takes Xanax when she feels anxious, but not on a regular basis.

She is also a perfectionist and hyper-organized.

She has always had an extreme fear of death -- or maybe more accurately, an extreme desire to not die. She has also always been terrified that something will happen to her at home when there's nobody around. Because of that, she bought a house a few years ago with my sister and her husband and kids.

A couple of weeks ago, Mom had an episode where her heart was racing (200 bpm -- my sister is an RN and took her pulse), and she felt like she was going to faint. It lasted quite a while and she ended up spending the night in the hospital. She had never had any kind of heart problem before.

She has seen a cardiologist, has some tests scheduled, and will presumably be put on some sort of medication. In the meantime, the doctor has told her not to drive, so I'm taking her where she needs to go -- I'm perfectly happy to do that, and it's not a problem at all.

The problem is that the episode with her heart seems to have really exacerbated her anxiety and she's done some things that really aren't even logical. For instance, she called the gas company to replace the two water heaters in their house, even though there have been absolutely no problems with them, because she was afraid they would start leaking sometime when she was home alone. Fortunately, the men from the gas company convinced her it wasn't necessary.

When she and my sister moved into their house, which has a very long driveway, they had an electric gate installed so Mom would feel safer when she was home alone. Now, she won't keep it closed when she's home alone during the day, because she's afraid something will happen to her and she'll have to call 911. Even though she has Lifeline, who would give her gate code to the EMS, she won't close the gate. Also, if she's out with my sister or me, she won't let us close the gate while we're gone, either, because she's afraid that something will go wrong with the gate and they won't be able to get it open, even though that's never happened in five years. Even if it did happen, the worst thing would be that they have to walk around the gatepost and leave the car outside the gate until they could get it open. Now, the only time she'll allow the gate to be closed is at night, when someone else is in the house with her. There are other things, but you get the idea.

She seems to be trying to prepare for the worst possible contingency in every aspect of her life, and it appears to be getting out of hand. I can sort of understand the need to feel in control, because she can't control what happens with her heart, but she needs to stop obsessing over everything. Trying to talk to her about it is really difficult, because she gets defensive and thinks we're making light of her fears.

Sorry this is so long. Does anyone have experience with a situation like this, or have any ideas for how we might handle this without making it worse?
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Louise_WebMD_Staff responded:
It sounds like you are a caregiver to me. You don't need to live in to be a caregiver. It sounds like it is definitely time to talk to her doctor about these obsessions and anxieties. She may need a pretty thorough work up to find out what is going on here.
 
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cjh1203 responded:
Thanks. I'm going to try to talk to her cardiologist before her next appointment. I would think that this isn't such an unusual thing after someone suffers a heart problem (although it may not be quite to this degree for most people).
 
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Louise_WebMD_Staff responded:
It probably isn't that unusual but the degree does bear checking into I think.
 
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cjh1203 responded:
She seems to be doing a little better now. She told me yesterday that, when thinking about the things that make her so anxious, she's asking herself "what's the worst that could happen?". That's exactly what she needs to do to help keep her anxieties under control, and I was so pleased to hear her say that. She's already started doing some things that she had stopped doing after the episode with her heart.
 
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Louise_WebMD_Staff responded:
That is wonderful to hear! I am glad she has found a key to keeping the anxiety at bay.


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