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What Makes Seniors with Dementia Have Hallucinations?

By Mark Schmidt, 9:00 am on July 1, 2019

Changes in a senior’s brain can cause hallucinations, among other symptoms. Seniors with dementia often hear, see, taste, smell, and feel people or things that aren’t there. Some of the false perceptions can be scary, while other hallucinations may be of people they love, miss, and wish they could see again. Learn more about hallucinations and why they occur in older adults with dementia.

Hallucinations Defined

As dementia causes brain cells to degenerate, the senses become distorted. Unlike illusions, aging adults misinterpret objects for real people. For instance, your elderly parent may see a tall lamp and mistake the item for a relative. Your loved one may feel as though food is in his or her mouth or hear music or people talking when, in fact, there’s nothing in his or her mouth and the sounds don’t exist.

When Hallucinations Occur

Visual hallucinations are the hallmark of Lewy body dementia and can occur in the early stages of the condition. With other types of dementia, the distortions don’t occur until the middle or late stages, if at all. Seniors may have good days when the symptom isn’t present, but there may be days when the hallucinations become so intense they cause behavioral problems. In most cases, false perceptions burn out as the condition progresses.

Caring for a loved one with dementia can be extremely challenging, and a compassionate professional caregiver can be a wonderful source of support. Families looking for top-rated Tucson elderly home care providers can reach out to Home Care Assistance. From respite care to specialized Alzheimer’s, dementia, stroke, and Parkinson’s care, there are many ways we can make life easier for seniors and their loved ones.

Types of Hallucinations

Medical treatment is often unnecessary when seniors experience happy hallucinations, which may include seeing a spouse who has passed away or hearing sounds of family members who live far away. Explain to your loved one that the people he or she sees aren’t present and the sounds don’t exist. Let your loved one know his or her condition is causing false perceptions. Be understanding and try to help your loved one accept what he or she is seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing, or feeling isn’t real.

You should also speak with your loved one’s primary care physician about the distortions, especially those that are frightening. Examples of terrifying hallucinations include feeling like a spider is crawling in the mouth or thinking an intruder is coming into the home. In these cases, your loved one should receive medical attention immediately. The doctor may prescribe medication to boost quality of life by reducing the frequency of the hallucinations and alleviating the stress caused by the distortions of reality.

If your senior loved one has been diagnosed with a serious condition and needs help with tasks like meal prep, transportation, bathing, and grooming, reach out to Home Care Assistance, a leading provider of homecare services families can trust. We also offer comprehensive care for seniors with dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.

Managing Hallucinations

The best way to handle false perceptions is to distract. You can change the subject, move your parent to another room, or encourage him or her to start an activity with you, such as dancing, painting, or cooking. Offer reassurance to your loved one, whether it’s a gentle pat on the back or words of encouragement. You should also make modifications to the home that can reduce the false perceptions, such as covering mirrors or removing lights that cast shadows throughout the house.

If you’re looking for reliable dementia care, Tucson Home Care Assistance offers high-quality at-home care for seniors who are managing the challenges of cognitive decline. We offer a revolutionary program called the Cognitive Therapeutics Method (CTM), which uses mentally stimulating activities to boost cognitive health in the elderly. CTM has proven to help seniors with dementia regain a sense of pride and accomplishment and learn how to engage with others in an enjoyable way. Contact one of our experienced Care Managers today at (520) 276-6555 to learn more about our reliable in-home care services.