Overly Paranoid and Isolated Mother Experiencing Olfactory Hallucinations

Photo by daveynin - http://flic.kr/p/6YaiDy - For illustration only

Reader’s Question

I need help with my mother. She is 54 years old and lives alone. My father passed away a few years ago, and since then she has basically lived the same isolated life. But for a few years now she has been increasingly paranoid about where she lives.

She constantly moves from apartment to apartment within a few months. She claims that there is a person or a group of people who are out to “get” her. She tells my three sisters and me that someone is hacking into her computer, cell phone, home phone, bank account, you name it. This phantom person is so good that they even can manipulate police officers and private detectives. She always complains of a burning or intense chemical smell in every apartment that she’s lived in, and every time we visit her and don’t smell anything she says that the smell only happens when we are not there.

My sisters and I are constantly stressed and frustrated with her because she does not want to see any doctors because she thinks that the entities will manipulate the doctors. Two of my sisters already have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders and have to take medications. I myself struggle to function with work, family and school and dealing with my mother who may possibly have a mental disorder. I also would like to add that my mother’s aunt and sister were institutionalized in a mental hospital, so I am not sure whether the mental disorder might be genetic.

We are at a loss, and the only way I know how to cope right now is to distance myself from her — yet knowing that she is alone keeps me anxious and worried every day.

Psychologist’s Reply

Although hallucinations could have been triggered by the acute anxiety your mother has suffered, they are constant now and quite primitive (olfactory). This suggests that the problem your mother is suffering is more than an anxiety disorder. I understand that she does not want to see a psychiatrist, which is unfortunate. Do you have a relationship with her internist? Can you speak with her about the symptoms and try to recruit her assistance? The MDs here tend to medicate this kind of problem with an injectible tranquilizer that lasts for about a month. This is necessary for patients who would not otherwise comply with their medication regimen (meaning that they wouldn’t take their meds every day). The success rate for people treated this way is very high. Typically, the delusions and hallucinations abate to the point where the patient can function well and benefit from talking therapy. In my home of California, medications like this basically ran the state hospitals out of business.

Talk to your sisters and see if you can all come up with a plan together. You needn’t face this on your own.

Please read our Important Disclaimer.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. Originally published by on and last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

Ask the Psychologist provides direct access to qualified clinical psychologists ready to answer your questions. It is overseen by the same international advisory board of distinguished academic faculty and mental health professionals — with decades of clinical and research experience in the US, UK and Europe — that delivers CounsellingResource.com, providing peer-reviewed mental health information you can trust. Our material is not intended as a substitute for direct consultation with a qualified mental health professional. CounsellingResource.com is accredited by the Health on the Net Foundation.

Copyright © 2022.