Learn How To Deal With Hallucinations In The Elderly

Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®

While there are many causes of hallucinations in the elderly, it is important to know what symptoms to watch for. Some examples are anxiety, talking to people who aren’t there, insomnia, and changes in mood. Here are some tips on how to deal with hallucinations plus knowing when it’s ok to do nothing.

dealing with hallucinations in the elderly

While there are many causes of hallucinations in the elderly, it is important to know what symptoms to watch for. Some examples are anxiety, talking to people who aren’t there, insomnia, and changes in mood. Here are some tips on how to deal with hallucinations plus knowing when it’s ok to do nothing.

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A hallucination is normally defined as an ‘abnormal sensory perception’. These can be both auditory and visual, and they happen when people are consciously awake. In short, someone experiencing a hallucination is someone hearing or seeing things that aren’t there.

There are many different causes of hallucinations, but there are a select handful that impact senior citizens and the elderly. Aging relatives suffering from hallucinations might get agitated and even scared easily, so they shouldn’t be left alone.

Keep reading to learn common causes of elderly hallucinations, frequent symptoms of these episodes, and 5 ways you can deal with them.

Causes Of Elderly Hallucinations

Hallucinations are not easy to diagnose. A lot of family members might even question the very validity of complaints from older relatives about such things. If it might be happening, it’s crucial to schedule an appointment with a doctor, since these hallucinations might be indicating something serious.

Doctors usually try and eliminate the possibility of psychiatric disorders that might lead to hallucinations before doing anything else. These include cases of depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

There are other frequent causes for hallucinations, in both the elderly and others. They include but are not limited to the following:

  • Brain cancer
  • Charles Bonnet syndrome
  • Dehydration
  • Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Drug/Alcohol abuse
  • Epilepsy
  • Kidney or liver failure
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Hearing or vision loss
  • Medication side effects
  • Hallucination Symptoms
loving daughter with her mother after a hallucination

Hallucination Symptoms to Watch Out For

Unless carefully observed, it’s possible for hallucinations to just go unnoticed. Caregivers need to look out for symptoms like:

Again, consult a physician for diagnosis and potential treatment. For instance, those with Charles Bonnet syndrome might suffer fewer hallucinations if their environment is brighter. Also, anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication are often useful prescriptions.

5 Ways To Respond When Your Elderly Relative Is Suffering Dementia Hallucinations

Here are some suggestion on how to deal with the hallucinations of an elderly loved one.

1) Determine If Response Is Even Necessary

Even if your older adult is having a hallucination, it might not be an unpleasant one. If it’s not hurting them, you might want to consider leaving them be. It might be distressing to you, but if they’re okay, just accept it for the symptom of dementia that it is and let it be.

2) Remain Calm

Stay calm if someone is going through a dementia hallucination. Don’t argue with them, and don’t try to contradict them with rational thought or logic. In fact, what you should do is offer reassurance and validate their feelings. Hallucinations might not be actually real, but what they’re feeling, seeing, and hearing is very real to them.

If they feel like you don’t believe them, it might upset them even worse. If you can, get them talking about what they’re seeing. Be kind, and ask them what you can do to help them feel safe.

view of a depressed elderly woman from behind

3) Remove Potential Triggers

Many times, you might be able to look around the environment of your loved one and determine specific triggers. If so, remove them. Visual stimulation and background noises are frequent triggers for hallucinations.

A TV with real footage might make them think they’re hearing voices, any entertainment devices might make them think that strangers are in the home, and dim lighting can bring fear from dark corners. Reflections in windows, shiny floors, and mirrors can also be a source of trouble if it’s bright indoors but dark outside.

4) Offer Simple Answers

If someone is having a dementia-related hallucination, avoid long-winded explanations about anything going on. They’re in distress, and trying to process anything you say might make things worse for them.

It’s much better to just pat them on the arm or shoulder, or just hug them, while saying “Don’t worry. I’m here, and I’ll protect you.”

5) The Art Of Distraction

If you can, distract your senior from any hallucinations going on. Get them to focus on something that they like to do. Get them involved in a chore. Have them look at family photos they love. Do a fun puzzle together. Eat something tasty. Sing one of their favorite songs. Also, just try talking to them. It’s harder to hear hallucinatory voices if they’re focusing their attention on you.

Summary and Final Recommendation

Watch for the symptoms of hallucinations in your loved one. If you suspect they are having a hallucination, try to make a quick determination whether or not they are distressed by it. If they are, try to calm them by letting them know you are with them, love them, and support them.

Once the situation is stable, contact their doctor and discuss the problem with them. Use their guidance to determine next steps.

Do you have any experience dealing with hallucinations that you would like to share? Please tell me about it in the comments below!

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Scott Grant, CSA®, ATP, CRTS®

Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®
Assistive Technology Professional
Certified Rehab Technology Supplier (CRTS®)

I have been serving seniors and the elderly for over 20 years as a medical equipment and custom wheelchair specialist for a regional medical equipment company. I am also a lucky dad to four awesome daughters and grandfather to three pretty terrific grandkids. When not helping older adult improve the quality of their lives, I enjoy early morning runs and occasional kayak trips. I am also a self-admitted nerd who loves anything from the 1980's. Learn More

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2 thoughts on “Learn How To Deal With Hallucinations In The Elderly”

  1. My age is 86 and I have been hallucinating for two years every night. From people, cats, dogs, bugs, even a fire truck. I realize what is going on so I try not to let it upset me. In June of 2017, I change doctors and she prescribes mirtazapine and I’m still on it. When I talk to her about my hallucinating, she wouldn’t talk to me about it. I guess my time was up that day. I have Insomnia so most of the time I feel awake when this is going on. For something to do I take notes of them and when I tell my friends, they think I’m crazy and that’s ok. Going to print your article for my daughter and I thank you for it. God Bless

  2. My neighbor has a 98 year old mother (living next door to her) that is having hallucinations where there is a puppy that taps her on her head, arm, foot etc. Now the puppy pooped and when she went to pick it up (for evidence that her daughter could see) the puppy ate it. Every day is a new adventure. Could you give her some suggestions of how to handle this?

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