Most of you may know that dementia can cause hallucinations. Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia cause changes in the brain and hallucinations, namely, to hear, see, feel or even taste something that is not around. In short, the brain distorts the senses.
Although unreal, hallucinations are very dangerous for the person who goes through it. For example, if your elderly mother or grandmother sees cockroaches crawling on the floor, whatever you say, nothing can convince her that they do not exist. Her brain tells her that the cockroaches are real. Some hallucinations can be scary, but others can only involve memories of ordinary people, objects or events from the past. Some can even be enjoyable.
Whatever it is, with each hallucination, the most important thing is to confirm what your elderly relative says he or she is experiencing, hearing, or seeing. You need to respond to their feelings and convince them that they are safe, no matter what happens in their head.
Here are some ways to react when you loved one is hallucinating.
Is a reaction necessary if he is visibly hallucinating?
This is the first question you ask yourself. The answer is: not always. Make sure this hallucination bothers your relative. If it is pleasant and you see that they are enjoying it – leave it alone. Just know that this is a symptom of dementia and fortunately does not cause stress.
Stay calm and do not try to convince them with logic
When someone is hallucinating, it is important to be calm and not contradict them. Trying to explain that what is in front of them is not real, logical and fictional will not work because the brain accepts only what it experiences. Dementia does not allow them to listen to other people’s logic. If your loved ones feel that you do not trust them, you can upset them even more and the fear created in them may increase. Help them stay calm, then the chance to talk about what they see is greater and they will feel safe when they know they has been heard and understood.
Sympathize without reacting sharply
Do not dismiss the hallucinations of the elderly with sharp remarks like “Don’t be a child, there is nothing and no one” – you will upset them. They will assume that you are not on their side and will never trust you when they need help. React to their feelings, not the hallucination itself. For example, if they are afraid, you can say, “That sounds scary and I see it upsets you”. If they are happy, use lines like, “How wonderful, I am glad it makes you so happy!” You do not have to pretend to see and hear what they do, you just need to support them. For example, “I don’t see anyone in the room, but you seem to be worried. What can I do to make you feel safe? So you are the protection and nothing bad will happened in your presence.
Eliminate anything that can trigger a hallucination
Often a hallucination can be caused by something that happens around your loved one on a daily basis. Because the damaged brain “reads” sights and sounds differently, you can never be sure what exactly is causing the hallucinations. But you can try to change the environment often and see how this affects them. For example, the sound of a TV or radio can make them think that there are strangers in the house, so turn them off for a while or keep them away. It may also appear that there are more people in the house from the reflections in glossy floors or windows, when it is dark outside and light inside. Mirrors can also be a source of fear or confusion.
Offer only simple answers
Do not give long explanations of what is happening and do not overdo it by describing again the situation they are going through to confirm that this is indeed the case. Answer calmly and understandingly. Say something like “Don’t worry, I’m here to protect you” or “I’ll make sure you’re safe”. Gentle hugs or pats on the arm/shoulder can also provide the necessary comfort.
Turn their attention to something else
An effective technique is to distract your loved one from the hallucination. Try to switch their focus to some activity that is interesting to them. You can ask them to help you with the housework, so they will feel useful. Invite them to look at photos, sing a song that has just popped into your head, solve a puzzle or take a walk.
Another way to distract is to focus on yourself. If your loved ones hear voices, try to talk to them. This makes it harder to focus on the hallucinating voices. Or if they see someone or something, stand at eye level and try to make eye contact to focus your loved ones on you, so the hallucination can dissipate.
Talk to a doctor to find out if there is another reason
Some medical problems such as dehydration, urinary tract infection, kidney infection, head injury or fall can also cause hallucinations. If your loved one has recently started a new medicine, it can also have a similar side effect. Do not rush – consult a doctor, but do not change the way you react to hallucinations.
Be sure to contact a doctor if the safety of your loved ones or your own is at risk. This is possible if your elderly mother or father, for example, is very anxious and hallucinations make them hurt themselves or others. In such a condition, the patient may be hitting himself or defend himself by attacking another person near him. When talking to a doctor, it is good to describe the symptoms and frequency in detail to give him a clearer picture. For this reason, very often the relatives of people with dementia keep a diary. This helps them understand what irritates the patient, what intensifies hallucinations or what helps in specific situations.
Caring for someone with dementia who is experiencing intense hallucinations can be very stressful. The reactions at this moment and the willingness to always be there are extremely important. That is why, the Blocks Memory Care team is extremely sensitive to diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. When a person with such a disease lives in a nursing home – doctors, assistants, nurses, they all need detailed information about his daily life. The objects that frighten them, the actions that upset them, the moments when they are most vulnerable. The Block team is specially trained in how to act in different situations and how to react so as to dispel the hallucination and invest all the patient’s emotion and energy in another, more enjoyable activity.
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