Hallucinations in the Elderly: Causes, Symptoms, and How to Respond
Hallucinations can be frightening.
Maybe you are sitting in your seat, staring at this screen, trying to process the ramifications of feeling the need to search for “hallucinations in the elderly”.
Whether you are experiencing them yourself or your elderly loved one has been showing signs, dealing with hallucinations is something few people think they will ever have to do.
And yet, here you are.
Even though hallucinations in the elderly can be scary, there are often things you can do to help alleviate them.
Keep scrolling to discover some of the common causes of hallucinations in the elderly and what you can do to help.
Table of Contents
What Can Cause Hallucinations in the Elderly? 6 Common Explanations
Unfortunately, old age and hallucinations sometimes go together. When you or your loved one experiences hallucinations, it can be frightening. Many factors can contribute to the cause of hallucinations.
#1: Cognitive Decline
One of the most common sources of hallucinations in the elderly is cognitive decline such as:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- General decline due to old age
If you or your loved one has one of the diagnoses, it is important to seek the right care. Some may find that extra help around the house and occasional support are more than enough to continue living independently, but this is not always the case.
For some experiencing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, living independently is not a sustainable option. That is why Senior Services of America exists. Our communities are not nursing homes — they are assisted living facilities. That means we value our patient’s safety and independence equally.
We are here to offer those in our communities the support they need and our Memory Care division is just one example of this. For our community members with diagnoses like Alzheimer’s and dementia, Memory Care offers a safe and comfortable environment to live and thrive.
With Memory Care, our residents have access to both the high-quality care and independence that they need.
#2: Urinary Tract Infections
If the senior in your life suddenly starts experiencing hallucinations without having shown any other symptoms of cognitive decline, it may send you into panic mode.
But doctors and caregivers who have experienced this know that one of the first things to do in this situation is to check for a UTI. Altered mental status is a prominent — and often the only — symptom of a UTI in elderly patients.
In addition to hallucinations, UTIs may cause seniors to experience:
- Falls; and
- Poor motor skills
Fortunately, this condition is easily treatable with antibiotics.
You should also try to prevent UTIs from forming by staying hydrated and practicing good hygiene. For example, when using incontinence pads, make sure they are changed frequently to prevent the growth of bacteria.
#3: Charles Bonnet Syndrome
Charles Bonnet Syndrome is known to cause vivid hallucinations. When people suddenly lose some or all of their vision, they may find themselves hallucinating.
CBS can be caused by multiple things:
- Surgery complications
- Temporal arteritis
- Diabetic retinopathy
#4: Sleep Disturbances
Elderly people who find themselves suffering from sleep disturbances or excessive daytime drowsiness might find that they experience hallucinations.
Nighttime hallucinations in the elderly are also common and may contribute to lack of sleep which can, in turn, contribute to hallucinations.
Sleep deprivation can cause many health complications such as:
- Weekend immunity
- High blood pressure
- Risk of diabetes
- Memory issues
Hallucinations in the elderly at night are fairly common so it is important to help encourage sleep and rest when possible, even if it is a nap during the day.
#5: Prescription Drug Side Effects
Medications can have severe side effects and hallucinations are one of them.
While many drugs are linked to hallucinations, older patients who take morphine might find that they experience hallucinations more commonly.
Morphine is commonly prescribed for pain and can greatly improve the lives of those who take it, however, hallucinations can occur while on the medication so morphine should only be taken under the supervision of a medical doctor.
Brain tumors located near the optic nerve path can compress the nerves and cause hallucinations.
If your loved one is experiencing hallucinations, and you’re worried that one of the above could be the cause, reach out to your loved one’s doctor without delay.
Can Dehydration in the Elderly Cause Hallucinations?
Dehydration can cause a multitude of health concerns, including hallucinations.
You would likely notice other symptoms of dehydration before hallucinating, however, if you find yourself or your loved one hallucinating from dehydration, you should call 911 or get to your nearest emergency room as quickly as possible.
Dehydration can be life-threatening.
If you notice yourself or your loved one experiencing …
- Low blood pressure,
- Inability to sweat,
- Lethargy, or;
… you should consider seeking medical help immediately since these are symptoms of dehydration in seniors.
Remember, if your mouth feels dry or you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated.
Symptoms of Hallucinations in the Elderly
It is common for hallucinations to go unnoticed by those around the person experiencing them. Someone hallucinating might not even be fully aware of what is happening.
If you suspect that you or your loved one might be experiencing hallucinations, look for these symptoms:
- A drastic change in behavior or mood
- Confusion and delusions
- Difficulty speaking
- Reduced sense of judgment
- Referring to things or people that are not present
- Heightened sense of awareness
How Do You Treat Hallucinations in the Elderly?
Hallucinations can be scary but they are not untreatable. Hallucinations are typically symptoms, not illnesses. Before you can treat hallucinations, you have to first determine the root cause. Once that is done, treatment can begin.
If the patient is hallucinating due to Charles Bonnet Syndrome, lightening the environment might alleviate the hallucinations. If they are due to severe dehydration, once the patient is well again, finding a way to ensure they get enough water might remove the issue.
If the root of the problem cannot be found, a doctor may prescribe an anti-anxiety med or an anti-depressant to help the patient relax and get more rest.
Hallucinations can be treated in ways that often reduce or eliminate them so you should always seek medical care and find out what options are available. Never assume that hallucinations are par for the course with whatever a condition may be.
5 Ways to Respond to Your Loved One’s Hallucinations
Responding well is important when your loved one experiences a hallucination.
#1: Remove Possible Triggers From the Environment
Hallucinations are not always all in the head. Sometimes there are environmental triggers to consider.
Sounds can be hallucination triggers. Do what you can to reduce or eliminate easily mistakable sounds such as the TV or an air conditioner.
Nighttime hallucinations in elderly people are common and this can often be linked to shadows.
Shadows can easily confuse someone prone to hallucinations so try and reduce them. Look around and see if there are shadows that look like something specific and do what you can to move objects around to eliminate the shadow.
#2: Stay Calm and Don’t Be Contradictory
Telling a loved one that what they are experiencing isn’t real might seem like the easiest and kindest reaction to a hallucination, but you should not do this.
Especially if the hallucination is linked to dementia, someone experiencing this type of event is not able to rationalize that what they are seeing or experiencing is not real.
Remain calm and collected and do not attempt to use logic or reason to convince them that they are hallucinating.
#3: Provide Reassurance and Validate Their Feelings
While you are staying calm, provide reassurance to the person experiencing the hallucination. Let them know that you are there to support them.
If they seem to be gaining joy from the hallucination, you might try saying something like “I see that you are happy! I am so glad that what you are experiencing is bringing you joy!”
If their hallucination is frightening, you might respond with something like “I can see that you are scared. I am sorry that you are experiencing something so scary. I am here for you. How can I help you feel safe?”
If they seem confused or disoriented, you might respond with “I can tell that you feel confused. How can I best help you?”
Simply being present with your loved one through the hallucination can go a long way in helping them cope.
#4: Distract and Redirect
Distraction and redirection are powerful tools that you can use to help someone experiencing a hallucination. Do your best to take their attention off of the hallucination by directing them to something they enjoy.
For instance, you could suggest:
- Going for a walk
- Doing a puzzle
- Having a snack
- Doing a chore or other task that makes them feel successful
- Looking through old family albums
- Singing their favorite song (if they are religious, a song they know from church might be especially helpful)
You can also try taking their attention off of the hallucination and placing it on you. For instance:
- If they are hearing voices — talk to them. It will be harder to make out those voices if they are listening to yours.
- If they see something — make eye contact. Help them to look you in the eyes and gently hold their attention. This might help the hallucination to fade or even disappear.
- If they feel something — try holding their hand or offering a hug. Diverting their attention to you might help.
#5: Find a Support Group to Help You Cope
Supporting a loved one through hallucinations is not easy. You may find yourself feeling stressed or experiencing other negative effects.
Joining a support group can help you feel less like you are the only one who knows what you are experiencing.
Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Make sure you are taking time for yourself and making sure you have the support you need.
Senior Services of America Offers Support for the Elderly From Independent Living to Memory Care
Senior Services of America is familiar with every step of the aging process and we know how to care for elderly people who are experiencing hallucinations.
From independent living to full Memory Care, we are proud to offer a wide range of senior care services. Our communities are more than just assisted living facilities, they provide a team of caring professionals who know how to provide the care that you or your loved one needs.
Find your nearest community to speak to an advisor today.