When a person with Alzheimer’s or other dementia hallucinates, he or she may see, hear, smell, taste or feel something that isn’t there. Some hallucinations may be frightening, while others may involve ordinary visions of people, situations or objects from the past.
Hallucinations are false perceptions of objects or events involving the senses. These false perceptions are caused by changes within the brain that result from Alzheimer’s, usually in the later stages of the disease. The person may see the face of a former friend in a curtain or may see insects crawling on his or her hand. In other cases, a person may hear someone talking and may even engage in conversation with the imagined person.
Alzheimer’s and other dementias are not the only cause of hallucinations. Other causes include:
- Physical problems, such as kidney or bladder infections, dehydration, intense pain, or alcohol or drug abuse
- Eyesight or hearing problems
- Respond in a calm, supportive manner. You may want to respond with, “Don’t worry. I’m here. I’ll protect you. I’ll take care of you.”
- Gentle patting may turn the person’s attention toward you and reduce the hallucination.
- Acknowledge the feelings behind the hallucination and try to find out what the hallucination means to the individual. You might want to say, “It sounds as if you’re worried” or “I know this is frightening for you.”
- Suggest a walk or move to another room. Frightening hallucinations often subside in well-lit areas where other people are present.
- Try to turn the person’s attention to music, conversation or activities you enjoy together.
- If the person asks you about a hallucination or delusion, be honest. For example, if he or she asks, “Do you see him?” you may want to answer with, “I know you see something, but I don’t see it.” This way, you’re not denying what the person sees or hears, but you avoid an argument.
Modify the environment
- Check for sounds that might be misinterpreted, such as noise from a television or an air conditioner.
- Look for lighting that casts shadows, reflections or distortions on the surfaces of floors, walls and furniture. Turn on lights to reduce shadows.
- Cover mirrors with a cloth or remove them if the person thinks that he or she is looking at a stranger.