If your elderly loved one is constantly worried about his or her health, it may be more than just a general concern. Perhaps they believe that every ache or pain is a sign of a deadly disease, or they cannot stop fixating on getting sick. The worry is so great that it is consuming their thoughts and they can’t really shake the anxiety and even depression that they feel. As a family caregiver, you should take their condition seriously and ask their doctor if they might be struggling with somatic symptom disorder.
What is Somatic Symptom Disorder?
Somatic symptom disorder, or SSD, is a condition where someone’s physical pain is related to their mental state. In other words, an elderly person may be so worried about their health that they have physical symptoms that are enhanced because of that stress. They believe that every small physical pain, ache or symptom is a sign of a very serious disease or life-threatening condition. Their worry can actually cause additional symptoms, sending them in a downward spiral of fear and anxiety.
The belief is so strong that even if the elderly person has undergone exams by a doctor, with normal results, they often feel like the information isn’t true. They may think the doctors or the tests missed something or that they aren’t being taken seriously. It’s common for seniors with SSD to insist on retaking medical tests, obsessively researching symptoms and even shopping for other doctors hoping that one will agree with them.
Causes and Treatments
SSD is a mental illness, but it doesn’t mean the pain or fatigue isn’t real. In fact, everyday symptoms they feel are legitimate. The problem is that the mind is either triggering the physical symptoms, or the symptoms are occurring and the mind interprets them to be more dire than they are. Medical experts are not sure about the cause of SSD but they have noted that it seems to run in families.
Treating SSD and related disorders requires a combination of physician and therapist. The physician can verify that there is nothing medically wrong with the elderly person. Regular checkups and wise counsel can often help seniors put some perspective on their health. A therapist can help with the anxiety and depression that the SSD has triggered. With treatment for physical and mental, the elderly person has a wonderful chance of managing the condition for many years.
Family caregivers can play a big part in helping their elderly relative overcomes SSD. They should acknowledge the very real feelings about the elderly person’s health and never say that they are faking their symptoms. It’s important to find different ways to help alleviate the anxiety they feel and try to get them to stop focusing so much on the symptoms. Keeping them active and ensuring they are eating a good diet can also help them feel better about their bodies.
It’s not easy to age and it inherently comes with a lot of fear, worry and questions. But when the level of anxiety reaches the point that the mind takes over the body, it’s time for professional help. Family caregivers should ask their elderly relative’s doctor about the issue.
IF YOU OR AN AGING LOVED ONE ARE CONSIDERING CAREGIVERS IN CORNELIUS, NC, PLEASE CONTACT THE CARING STAFF AT GOLDEN HEART SENIOR CARE OF CHARLOTTE. (704) 246-5806.