How Can Caregivers Handle Dementia and Hallucinations

How Can Caregivers Handle Dementia and Hallucinations

Hallucinations are a common symptom of dementia., It can be frightening for those who experience them and can be especially challenging for caregivers. However, at Long Island Alzheimer's and Dementia (LIAD) Center, you are not alone. 

You have access to an entire team of support and resources to help you navigate the best path forward and provide your loved one with the care they deserve. Let's take a closer look at how caregivers can handle dementia and hallucinations. And don't hesitate to reach out to the team at the LIAD Center for personalized assistance.  

What Is a Hallucination?

A hallucination can involve your loved one smelling, hearing, seeing, tasting, or feeling something that isn't there. Your loved one may see the face of a deceased loved one in the distance or see bugs crawling on their hand. In some instances, your loved one could hear an old friend talking and may even engage in a conversation with the imagined individual. 

Hallucinations are triggered by changes in the brain that typically happen during the later or middles stages of the dementia journey. Certain types of dementia are more commonly associated with hallucinations. For example, hallucinations are more common with Parkinson's dementia and dementia with Lewy bodies, but can also be experienced by those with Alzheimer's disease

Hallucination vs Delusion

Hallucinations are often confused with delusions. While both are common with dementia, hallucinations and delusions are distinctly different from one another. A delusion is a strongly held belief that fails to have any supporting evidence. Delusions are often caused by suspicious feelings and thoughts or paranoia.  For example, if your loved one with dementia believes someone is stealing their money or a loved one is having an affair, they may be having a delusion. 

Loved One Having Hallucinations? See the Doctor

First , if your loved one is experiencing hallucinations, it's important you communicate this to their physician. It's critical the medical professional conduct an evaluation and rule out other  potential causes and to determine whether medication is needed. For example, some caregivers believe their loved one is experiencing hallucinations, but it's actually vision problems. 

Because of this, it's always important to arrange a vision test with a dementia-friendly optician to rule out vision problems as the source. In addition, certain medications, a bladder infection, and kidney infections may cause confusion as well as hallucinations. For all of the reasons mentioned above, it's best to speak with your loved one's physician first. 

General Guidelines for Dealing with Dementia and Hallucinations

Seeing things that are not there can be unnerving and even frightening — even if what you're loved one is seeing isn't scary. As a result, it's important to reassure your loved one their hallucinations aren't unusual and may stop over time. You can also explain the visions may be controlled and there is nothing to be frightened of. 

However, you shouldn't argue with a loved one who insists what they're hearing or seeing is real. From their perspective, it is real...very real. And if you attempt to convince them otherwise, it can lead to feelings of anxiety, frustration, and other negative emotions. Here are a few general guidelines caregivers can use to soothe a loved one with dementia experiencing hallucinations. 

Confirm the Truth

You should always confirm your loved one's hallucination isn't real. For example, if they say someone is at the door, you should confirm no one is at the door. 

Give Them Kind Reassurance

If your loved one with dementia is experiencing hallucinations, you can offer them kind reassurance. For example, you can let them know you will check on them often. Or you can say something like "Don't worry. I am here to protect you." And if your loved one is in a care facility, inform their caregivers of their hallucinations and how it impacts them. 

Don't Minimize Their Experience

When your loved one is having a hallucination, avoid diminishing their experience. For example, you should avoid saying things such as "Don't be silly Mom..there's nothing there." This belittles their experience because what they are seeing is very real indeed. Instead, acknowledging how your loved one may be feeling during the hallucination is a much better and caring approach. 

Don't Act Like You See or Hear the Hallucination

It's usually best to avoid acting as if their hallucination is real. Affirming their hallucination as reality can make them feel more agitated and confused.

Leave Reasoning on the Bench

Avoid trying to reason with your loved one because it will not work. However, voicing your disbelief can make them more agitated and upset. 

Modify the Space

You can make relatively minor or subtle changes to the space in regards to your loved one's hallucinations. You can install nightlights, reduce shadows, rearrange furniture, and make other changes that your loved one may interpret as something else. Consider anything that may be triggering the hallucination.

Keep Routines

When your loved one's day follows a schedule and is predictable, you can help reduce the likelihood they stray from reality. As a result, it may be helpful to keep routines. Another tip is to keep a log of when the hallucinations occur and pay special attention to the circumstances surrounding the hallucinations. 

Utilize Distractions

Something as simple as a morning walk or soothing music can help defuse a hallucination. For instance, if your loved one is seeing objects or people, try sitting face-to-face with them and to make eye contact. If your loved one is able to see you during the hallucination, it can reduce the intensity of the experience.

Contact the Long Island Alzheimer's & Dementia Center for Virtual Caregiver Support Groups & Additional Resources

At the LIAD Center, we offer virtual caregiver support groups specialized for the unique experiences and needs of spouses, loved ones, adult children, and the bereaved. Each support group is facilitated by an experienced, licensed social worker. In addition to hearing and sharing experiences from other caregivers, these groups can be integral in helping you to : 

  • Limit caregiver stress
  • Help avoid caregiver depression
  • Reduce caregiver isolation
  • Offer respite from your caregiving duties
  • Teach proven coping methods and strategies
  • Create a comfortable environment where ideas are shared
  • Connect you to community resources to help build your network of support

Contact the Long Island Alzheimer's & Dementia Center today by calling (516)767-6856 or completing a contact form.

About the Author Grace Johnson

Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW), State of New York Long Island Alzheimer's and Dementia Center

Have you or a loved one been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease or dementia?