Friday, June 21, 2013

Mom’s Stomach Issues

Mom has been having stomach issues for quite some time now. She will go days, and even weeks, with little problem and then suddenly a stomach “attack” comes on. Lately, these episodes are becoming closer together.

An episode usually starts in the evening or in the middle of the night. Usually. Mom starts to feel “severe” and in no time she is hovering over her small wastebasket at her bedside, gagging and throwing up phlegm and liquid. By the next day, she refuses to eat because she is afraid that if she does, it will upset her stomach and she will throw up again. So it continues for a few days: mom, throwing up while taking her usual medicines and refusing to eat.

I believe it’s a cycle. Mom’s stomach is upset. Mom throws up. Mom refuses to eat which makes her stomach even more upset causing her to become nauseous and eventually throw up again.

The part that is unclear is why she is getting sick in the first place. We’ve brainstormed many ideas: maybe she’s developed a lactose intolerance (we switched her milk to almond milk, unbeknownst to her) or maybe she’s eating spoiled food (this could still be a possibility, but we try our hardest to keep up on cleaning out the fridge). We have taken her to a specialist (the “stomach doctor”) who has done ultrasounds and CT scans. Nothing shows up. Yesterday, dad had another appointment with this doctor to follow up with past issues and again, he said that there was nothing obvious that was showing up that could be a source for her sickness. He recommended that they put mom under anesthesia and do some sort of exploratory procedure to see if anything else can be seen. Dad told him that he would consider it, but hasn’t made a decision on whether or not to put mom through this.

There are pros and cons to the procedure. The pro would be that we could possibly find a cause for her stomach issues. The cons are many: how will mom do under anesthesia? Could it cause further complications with mom’s condition or could it “push along” the disease process? If they do find something-say, maybe cancer-what good would that knowledge do [I know this sounds horrible, but if indeed they did find cancer would it be worth putting mom through chemo in her condition and with the quality of life that she has to look forward to?] These are all things to consider.

The biggest question remains: if we put her through this test, are they actually going to find something or is a lot of this in mom’s head? With semantic dementia, hypochondria is a big problem. This was explained to me at our last visit with UCLA, that with this form of dementia, their mind is losing memory/recognition of what certain bodily functions mean. For example, mom’s stomach may growl or hurt because she is hungry, yet she doesn’t understand that what she is feeling is related to hunger; she becomes confused with what she is feeling. Because of this lack of recognition, they become preoccupied with and fixated on every sensation they feel. Could it be that mom is simply hungry but cannot recognize the hunger pain? Rather than eating and putting an end to the hunger pains, mom starves herself for days, only occasionally drinking Slim Fast, Ensure or water, all the while continuing to take her medications. It becomes a cycle: not eating, feeling sick, not eating because she feels sick, feeling more sick because she’s not eating.

Within the past 2-3 months, mom’s eating habits have significantly worsened. She hardly eats (which could explain her increase in stomach problems). She’s losing more weight. She drinks Slim Fast for breakfast, Ensure most nights for dinner and eats only a sandwich at lunch time. Sometimes she will snack on fruit or Poppycock in the afternoon. I know that when I do not get enough to eat, I sure don’t feel good! Despite our efforts in getting her eat, she keeps herself on a mostly liquid diet. She doesn’t recognize most foods anymore (the other day she didn’t even know what chicken tacos were…and that was one of her ‘staple’ foods only a few months ago!) and when we try to convince her to eat something we’ve made, she protests,

“No, different things now upset my stomach, no. I don’t know how that will make my stomach feel.”

I have tried telling her over and over and OVER that her stomach upset is likely due to her medication with her liquid diet. She will hear nothing about it. No amount of coaxing or explaining will convince her. We have tried everything we can think of. We are at a loss of what to do. :(


  1. I'm having exactly the same problem with my mother. It is difficult to tell whether there is an underlying problem. Very challenging.

  2. I'm having exactly the same problem with my mother. It is difficult to tell whether there is an underlying problem. Very challenging.