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24 Apr

Dementia and hallucinations – the causes and how you can respond

Information on how to manage hallucinations related to dementia

When someone with dementia hallucinates, they may see, hear or smell something that isn’t actually there. Hallucinations can be as simple as seeing a flashing light. They can also be complex, when the person sees different or new people or surroundings. While some hallucinations can be frightening, they can also be related to a past experience the person may have had.

The difference between hallucinations and visual problems

The process of seeing is complex, and has many different stages where information is passed from our eyes to our brain, and is then interpreted based on our senses, thoughts and memories.

A person with dementia may for example mistake green flooring for grass or a dressing gown hanging up to be a person. They may struggle to identify what they see, so may call you by someone else’s name or use the wrong word when describing an object that they are looking at.

You may think that these are hallucinations, when in fact the person could be mistaking what they are seeing, as certain types of dementia can lead to problems with vision. The aging process, as well as eye and health conditions, can also cause these mistakes, while certain medications can result in such problems too.

Supporting a person with dementia who may be hallucinating

When someone is hallucinating, it is important to take the time to support them. While the below contains advice on what can be done, remember that every person with dementia has their own likes, dislikes and personality. Therefore, take the time to understand how the person reacts and responds to your support, to make sure that you adapt your care to their needs.

  • When someone is hallucinating, calmly explain what is happening. If they can’t retain the information, repeat it when they are more relaxed
  • Don’t argue or try to convince them they are hallucinating if they aren’t ready to listen to you, as this can cause you both distress
  • Stay with them, reassure them that you want to know what they are experiencing and listen carefully to what they describe
  • Hallucinations can sometimes take place in certain rooms or environments. Gently lead them into a different space
  • Make a distraction by switching on more lights
  • Make sure they are getting regular company as people are less likely to hear voices when they have people to talk to

Hallucinations can also be caused by certain medications. If you are concerned, book an appointment with the GP for your loved one to determine whether their current medication might be causing hallucinations. The GP may suggest alternative medications that may not cause such extreme side effects or perhaps adjust the dose of the existing prescription.

When talking to the GP, let them know what the person saw, what time of day the hallucinations tend to happen and if they happen within a certain room or after a certain activity. Write down how long they last for and how the person reacts. Also make note of the medication and dosages the person is taking, their medical history and if they use alcohol or recreational drugs.

Seeking medical advice is also a good idea if the hallucinations frighten the person or last for a long time.

If a person is having multi-sensory hallucinations, seek medical help immediately as this could be a sign of a serious illness.

Priory Adult Care services

Priory Adult Care has specialist care services for people with dementia. Our homes have been developed and adapted to meet the needs of people with dementia, and our caring team work hard to ensure each resident enjoys as much independence and stimulation as possible.

To find out more about our care homes for people with dementia, please call us on 0808 208 2147 or you can make an enquiry online.