Hallucinations in later life
"I don't like that bear on my bed!"
A visual hallucination such as this can occur in the later stages of dementia or near the end of life. Some people also have auditory hallucinations—hearing things that others don't—or feel things that aren't there, such as string in their mouth or ants on their arm. These false perceptions are a misfiring of the brain. But they seem very real to the person experiencing them.
When to "join the story" If the hallucination is not distressing to your loved one, don't try to reason him or her out of it. Challenging what they perceive is likely to upset them. Instead, participate in their story. They might, for instance, see their mother in the room. You don't want to lie and pretend you see her also. But you might say, "I remember the time she brought balloons for my birthday. She was so sweet."
Is the person frightened or agitated? If your loved one is distressed, validate their feelings: "I wouldn't want a bear on my bed either." Then reassure them that you are there to protect them. Touch your loved one's arm or hand in a comforting way and suggest doing something together. The act of physical touch can help orient your relative to the present. Leaving the room together—for a cookie or to feed the cat, or some other simple activity—can also help him or her disengage.
Look for a cause Check for pain or discomfort. Other possible culprits include a full bladder, hunger, thirst, or constipation. Keeping rooms well lit reduces the chance of your loved one misinterpreting shadows or noises. If your relative mistakes his or her own reflection in a mirror for an intruder, cover up mirrors.
Always talk with the doctor Hallucinations can be brought on by an infection or be a side effect of medication.
Does your loved one have hallucinations?
Very likely he or she is at the stage of needing a lot of help. You don’t have to do this alone. As the North Shore and Chicago experts in family caregiving, we at Options for Aging can assist you. Give us a call at 847-868-1445.