How to deal with Hallucinations and Delusions in Dementia and Alzheimer’s patients

Alzheimer’s disease causes memory loss and makes it hard for those who are afflicted with it to stay in the present. The most challenging things to deal with as a caregiver and/or family member are delusions and hallucinations.

Knowing the difference between the two can help in knowing how to deal with them. A hallucination is a sensation that seems to be real, but is created in the mind. It can affect all 5 senses. When suffering from a hallucination, a person can see, hear, smell, feel or taste something that isn’t really there. The most important thing to remember, is that even though a hallucination isn’t real, it’s very real to the person having it.

My father frequently had a hallucination about his building being on fire. You cannot effectively convince someone who sees and smells fire, that there isn’t one present. So we would simply redirect him to a “safe” room and tell him the firemen were on their way. After a few moments, we would tell him they put out the fire and that it was safe to return. This was very effective. Sometimes you have to be creative in your approach. Flexibility is crucial.

A delusion is a belief that is false. It cannot be reasoned away, and no matter what evidence you provide to the contrary, there is no breaking that belief. Many who suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s have delusions to some degree. Paranoia, and belief that caregivers are stealing from them is very common. Suspicion that family or doctors are trying to poison them with medication, steal possessions or money and any number of other possible scenarios.

In this case it is best not to argue because you simply cannot win and aggravating someone with dementia will only lead to a worse scenario. Try to divert their attention elsewhere. Let them know you want to address their concerns, but could they help you with something else first. If you’re lucky, they may forget, for the moment about their frustration and return to a calmer mode. Remember the disease is causing this, and don’t take anything personally. Diversion here can work.

My father had a horrible episode one night and believed a man that lived in his memory care community was trying to kill him. He was very agitated when I arrived. I removed him from the area and took him back to his room where I talked with him about other things for about 20 minutes. There was a moment I saw a change come over him and he softened, he totally forgot about his delusion and we went back to the dining room and had a pleasant dinner. If the person suffering from the delusion is too angry, just give them some space, and come back to them after a while. Take an approach/retreat tactic until they are calm. You can’t force the issue. Love and patience is what is required!

Memory loss and other cognitive problems that cause confusion—such as the inability to remember certain objects or recognize faces—can contribute to these delusions. It’s important to bear in mind that people with Alzheimer’s continually struggle to make sense of the world. It is an extremely lonely and isolating experience.

Many try to keep loved ones suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s home. This isn’t always the best course of action. Their retreat from the world only isolates them further and can actually cause the disease to progress faster. Memory Care communities have environments that not only keep them safe, but they also implement therapeutic activities that are designed specifically for improving cognitive function and stabilizing mood.  This reduces anxiety associated with the disease and can actually keep their mind functioning better than if they were left at home.

If you need help with a loved one. Give us a call and we’d be happy to discuss your situation and offer any advice you may need.

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