Dementia and Hallucinations

by | Jul 6, 2022 | Dementia

What are hallucinations?

When we hear the word hallucination, that can feel scary. What are hallucinations and why does my mother with Alzheimer’s disease say someone is at her window?

Basically, hallucinations are when your brain misfires. The misfire gives us a falso perception that can show up as visual, olfactory, auditory and even physical sensation. At times, they can feel very real.
It can be very disconcerting is Grandma suddenly talks about seeing snakes or someone crawling through the third floor window. Why is she suddenly seeing things? 

It might be an indication of a medical change

Here are some things to rule out:

  • UTI
  • History of mental illness
  • dehydration
  • New medications
  • Medication interactions
  • Substance use

What do I say to my loved one?

So what do you say to your loved one who is experiencing hallucinations? THis can feel difficult because our first instinct might be to try and correct them. First, let’s look at the underlying feelings that are showing up with the hallucination. 

Is it frightening?

 If it’s upsetting, that we don’t want that so we are going to address it. You want to be a calming presence, you don’t want to challenge and invalidate them. For those of you who are carepartners, or have worked with older adults with dementia, arguing, almost never works. Folks can get really stubborn and none of us like to be wrong. Dementia or not, none of us like to be told we’re wrong. This makes us dig our heels in and hold on to our stance because now it just about principle. So it’s important to focus on the underlying emotion that’s coming up with the hallucination. Are they afraid? Are they worried? You want to address that, and speak to their emotions versus speak to what they’re actually seeing or experiencing. you can say things like, “Don’t worry, I’m here, you’re safe, I’ll take care of it,” to provide reassure for them and create that sense of safety. You might want to gently, distract the person from what’s going on tapping their hand, gently drawing their attention away. It is not helpful to invalidate their experience and what they’re feeling. This is very real to them.

Is it comforting?

Maybe they see their grandmother who’s passed and it’s actually really comforting experience. Perfect, great, let them go with it. At times, you have to ask yourself, who is this really bothering? 

So what do you say?

So you might say something like, “It sounds like you’re really worried about this,” or  “This is really worrying you.”  “It seems like you’re really frightened, this is really frightening you, isn’t it?” Think about getting them talking, reassure them and you can redirect it. You might try reassuring the person by taking them out of the environment, putting music on, or engaging other senses. You never want to fully disregard their experience and what the are experieincing. But I don’t want to lie to my loved one.  So if the person says, “Well, don’t you see them?” You can say, “Well, no, I’m not experiencing what you’re experiencing. I don’t see it.” You’re not saying that their experience isn’t true, you’re just admitting, “No, I’m not experiencing the same thing right now.”

Modify the environment

What do you actually have control of over that you can change that might help?

You want to look for sounds that might be misinterpreted:
The television- it might be that your mom always watched certain show at a certain time, or it’s on because they used to like it. But after a certain point, the extra stimuli that is coming in can be disruptive and disorienting. So, it might be time to not have the TV on anymore. Folks living with dementia can confuse what somebody says on the TV as somebody actually being in the room interacting with them.
Foe individuals living with dementia, sometimes their sensory input gets overloaded, and their brain doesn’t know what to do with all the sensory stimulation it is preceiving. So, controlling the environment as much as possible can be very helpful to help keep a person calm and focused, and help their brain process things better as it’s coming in and not get so overwhelmed with it.

Look for odd lighting that may create odd shadows:
All of us have been in that situation, where we see an odd shadow and if we’re even a little bit jumpy, we think we see something out of the corner of our eye. We’ve all been there. Add that to confusing. astory on TV for reality and that is a recipe for a bad night. And you know that is me if you have ever spoken to me after I have watched a spooky show.

It comes down to making sure you are meeting your loved ones needs by adapting the environment to how they are going to be the most successful and feel the safest.
I hope you found this helpful! If you would like to see my video about this topic or check out other videos I have made, you can do so here