When aches and pains can cause elderly people to worry about their health, there’s a mental condition known as somatic symptom disorder that can greatly interfere with their daily life.
What is somatic symptom disorder?
Somatic symptom disorder (SSD) and its related disorders cause a person to believe that normal body functions, small physical symptoms, and more are actually serious diseases and life-threatening illnesses. They worry so much about their physical health that the stress actually makes them sick, adding to their worry.
Family caregivers need to recognize that SSD is more than just their elderly relative fussing over nothing. It’s a mental illness that may need treatment from numerous professionals to get them to stop worrying so much.
Symptoms of Somatic Symptom Disorder
For seniors that have a somatic symptom disorder or a related disorder, they are convinced that they have some kind of dire illness.
Generally, due to some actual physical sensation, such as pain or fatigue, elderly people with SSD are excessively preoccupied and afraid. Their behaviors and mental attitudes quickly become dysfunctional and they remain in a constant state of distress.
Behaviors of Seniors with Somatic Symptom Disorder
One common behavior in those with SSD is that they constantly talk about or research their symptoms.
They may also visit the doctor or clinics frequently. Even if medical test results are normal, they justify it by claiming that the tests are wrong or the doctor missed something.
They may even insist on seeing another doctor, believing that the new one will agree with them. Elderly people with SSD are rarely reassured with medical facts and may insist that their care is inadequate.
Somatic Symptom Disorder Causes
While medical experts are not sure of the cause of somatic symptom disorder and related disorders, they do seem to run in families.
The condition is related to anxiety, which has to do with how the brain interprets signals from the body. The physical symptoms are real, but the stress about them is out of proportion to the situation.
Because SSD is a mental disorder with physical symptoms, people should be treated by both a physician as well as a therapist.
Somatic Symptom Disorder Treatment
There is also no real cure for the condition, but it can be managed with the right treatment.
An understanding physician can help elderly people with SSD and related disorders by giving them regular checkups and providing them with a solid medical opinion about their health.
A therapist can also contribute to treatment by working through the mental issues that seniors with SSD may have.
Together, they can come up with a treatment plan that will let the elderly person find some balance in their life and let go of some of the stress and worry that somatic symptom disorder can bring into their lives.
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Family caregivers who have an elderly relative that complains or worries a lot about their health and always expects the worst case scenario may want to talk to professionals about the possibility of somatic symptom disorder.