People with Alzheimer’s and dementia often experience hallucinations and delusions. This can be confusing and scary. It is important for caregivers to understand what they are, why they are happening, and how they can help.
Hallucinations are sensory based. When someone is having hallucinations they are hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, or even feeling things that do not exist. For instance, your loved one may see a dog on the patio, or children running around the house. They might hear voices, see faces, even have conversations with people who don’t exist.
Delusions are belief based. Delusions are what a person believes to be true. If your loved one is having delusions, they may believe others are “out to get them,” that someone is stealing from them, or that there are strangers in their house.
As the caregiver, it is important to understand hallucinations and delusions, why they are occurring and how to deal with them. It is also a good idea to discuss these events with your loved one’s doctor.
Some factors that could be contributing to hallucinations and delusions include:
- Memory issues. As memory and cognition decline, delusions may arise as a way to create a narrative that helps makes sense of the world.
- Eyesight problems. Has the overall vision of your loved one changed? Are new glasses needed? If so, this could be compounding the hallucinations and delusions associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
- Health issues. Sickness such as fever or infections might contribute to hallucinations or delusions. More serious health concerns such as stroke and seizure can also play a part.
- Medications can be a culprit too. It is key to keep track of medications and discuss the possibility of potential connections with your loved one’s doctor.
- Basic needs not being met. Do they have to go to the bathroom? Are they hungry? Do they have a stomachache or incontinence issue? Sometimes unmet basic needs are a trigger for hallucinations and delusions.
When your loved one experiences hallucinations, especially scary ones, it is essential to offer calm, supportive, and loving help. Make sure they know you are there to take care of them and keep them safe. Allow them to discuss what they see or believe. Don’t correct or contradict them. Express understanding that seeing this could be scary but also give reassurance they have nothing to fear. Let them know they are ok and not alone.
Distractions can help calm a person suffering from hallucinations and delusions. Try an activity they enjoy. For instance, turn on some music and have a sing-along, or look through a photo album. If possible, go for a walk. Gentle exercise is very important.
Your loved one’s living environment can also play a part. Make note of a few key items:
- Is the TV on? Sometimes the difference between what is on TV and what is in real life may get blurred. Make sure nothing violent or scary is on.
- Do they see people or items they don’t recognize? Try covering mirrors. Seeing images of people, even themselves, can be frightening. And reflections of images can be confusing.
- Are the lights on? Make sure rooms are well lit to eliminate shadows and dark images.
- Are they alone in a room too long? Taking them to a room with someone in it could help hallucinations subside.
- Is the area safe from objects that may hurt them or others? When scared or confused, they might mistakenly use something that could hurt themselves or others.
- Is a particular object causing constant stress? If your loved one is constantly having upset or hallucination because of a specific item, like a statue or plant, simply remove it from their living space.
Hallucinations and delusions are not uncommon for people suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. With understanding and patience, caregivers can provide tremendous comfort and relief to the loved one experiencing these scary events.