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Hallucinations In The Elderly: Causes, Symptoms & How To Help

Hallucinations in the Elderly: Causes, Symptoms & How to Help

If you or a senior loved one has experienced hallucinations, you likely know how troubling they can be. A hallucination is a sensory experience of something that does not exist outside the mind, usually in the form of visual or auditory images. Simply put, a hallucination causes a person to see or hear something that isn’t really there. While a person may hallucinate for a variety of reasons, there are some common causes that specifically affect older adults. It’s important to recognize the symptoms of elderly hallucinations and seek medical treatment to ease or eliminate hallucinations.

Causes of Hallucinations in the Elderly

Hallucinations can have many causes, making them difficult to diagnose. A medical professional will likely first try to rule out a psychiatric disorder. Disorders such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression are all common causes of hallucinations. Once psychiatric disorders have been ruled out, doctors can investigate other possible medical reasons for hallucinations. Here are some common causes of hallucinations in the elderly:

  • Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease – Hallucinations are often one of the first signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.
  • Charles Bonnet Syndrome – This condition causes visual hallucinations in a person with partial or severe blindness.
  • Medication side effects – Drugs used to treat hypertension, erectile dysfunction, movement disorders like Parkinson’s, mental disorders, and certain antibiotics have been shown to cause hallucinations.
  • Delirium – Delirium induced hallucinations are often experienced post-surgery or in conjunction with a UTI.
  • Illness – Brain cancer, liver or kidney failure may cause hallucinations.
  • Bereavement – Research shows 1 in 3 elderly widows and widowers experience hallucinations following the death of their spouse.
  • Dehydration – When the body doesn’t have enough water, the brain malfunctions causing lethargy and hallucinations.
  • Epilepsy
  • Hearing or vision loss
  • Drug or alcohol abuse

Symptoms of Hallucinations

Symptoms of a hallucination can often go unnoticed without careful observation. Additionally, for many seniors, hallucinations can be disturbing and they might not mention they are having them due to embarrassment. Here are some symptoms to watch out for:

  • Drastic change in behavior or mood
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Heightened sense of awareness
  • Reduced sense of judgment
  • Confusion and memory lapses
  • Delusions
  • Difficulty speaking, or expressing their thoughts
  • Insomnia
  • Withdrawal
  • Talking about things or people that are not there

How to Help

The first thing you should do when you or a loved one is experiencing hallucinations is to see the doctor. Once diagnosed, many causes of hallucinations can be treated and their occurrence can be greatly reduced or eliminated. Here are some additional tips if you are caring for someone who is experiencing hallucinations.

  • Go along with it:Understand that hallucinations feel very real to the person experiencing them. Show empathy and access whether the hallucinations are upsetting and try to find a solution.
  • Create distractions:Try calming your loved one by shifting their focus to things they enjoy such as listening to music or playing a game.
  • Stick to a routine:A senior experiencing hallucinations does better with a consistent routine in a familiar surrounding.
  • Ensure a comfortable environment:A confusing or unfamiliar environment can make hallucinations worse. Good lighting, large clocks, and signs on doors or cabinets can help prevent confusion and hallucinations.

Understandably, hallucinations can be very alarming – both for the senior and for those around him. If you have a loved one who is experiencing hallucinations, it is best not to leave them alone. A qualified in-home caregiver can recognize the symptoms of a hallucination and respond quickly. Hopefully, with time and treatment, their hallucinations will subside or go away completely.

Additional Resources

If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation.  Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.

Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia CareBed & Wheelchair Transfer AssistanceCompanionshipHousekeeping & Meal PreparationPersonal CareRecovery Care, and Transportation.

Serving the San Francisco Bay Area, Greater San Diego, and now Oregon, Family Matter In-Home Care has offices in Campbell, CARoseville, CASan Marcos, CASan Mateo, CA, and Portland, OR.


Carol Pardue-Spears

Carol has worked in the healthcare field for more than forty years. As a Certified Nursing Assistant, she worked for El Camino Hospital in the cardiac unit, Los Gatos Community Hospital, The Women’s Cancer Center in Los Gatos and several home health and hospice agencies. Carol founded Family Matters in 2002 to fill a deficit she witnessed in high-quality, in-home services and care.

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