“In memory’s telephoto lens, far objects are magnified,” wrote John Updike. These memories can sometimes infuse hallucinations, whether disturbing or, occasionally, sweet.
Q. My mom, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s years ago, has been experiencing hallucinations. I found her having a conversation with an empty chair and another time she told me there was a child running around the house who needed diapers changed. Help.
A. Witnessing a loved one experience a hallucination is a scary thing.
A hallucination is an inaccurate perception of surroundings that can involve all five senses. Visual and auditory hallucinations are the most common.
If you suspect hallucinations are being caused by medications, eyesight or hearing problems, dehydration, or bladder infections, see a doctor right away.
Other causes of hallucinations in people with dementia include changes in routines, inadequate lighting, an overstimulating environment, and sundowning.
In this particular case, your mom may find great comfort in the conversations she has.
Simply keep an eye on her demeanor to make sure she is okay. If she sees children running around, validate her reality and say, “You’re right, Mom. The little girl does need a diaper change. I will do that right away.”
You can distract her by giving her a small task to do or walking her to another room.
Here are some techniques to try when someone experiences a hallucination
Consider the nature of the hallucination. If your loved one says they saw a stranger peering into the window, give them the benefit of the doubt and make sure that there isn’t, in fact, someone lurking outside.
Validate their feelings. Hallucinations are very real to the person. No amount of contradiction will convince them otherwise. Arguing adds to the confusion.
Reassure with comforting phrases such as, “I see you’re scared. I will stay with you. You are safe with me.” Follow this with a comforting touch or pat on the back.
Use distractions such as diverting their attention, playing relaxing music, or ushering the person to another room.
Keep routines and environments consistent to avoid anxiety.
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