Hallucinations Part 3 of 3 — How to handle hallucinations

Hallucinations Part 1 — What are hallucinations?

Hallucinations Part 2 — Types of hallucinations?

Hallucinations Part 3 — How to handle hallucinations

Hallucinations can be frightening. On some occasions, individuals may see threatening images or just ordinary pictures of people, situations or objects from the past. Here are some ideas for handling hallucinations.

  1. See the doctor
  2. Ask the doctor to evaluate the person to determine if medication is needed or might be causing the hallucinations. In some cases, hallucinations are caused by schizophrenia, a disease different from Alzheimer’s.
  3. Have the person’s eyesight or hearing checked. Also make sure the person wears his or her glasses or hearing aid on a regular basis.
  4. The physician can look for physical problems, such as kidney or bladder infections, dehydration, intense pain, or alcohol or drug abuse. These are conditions that might cause hallucinations. If the physician prescribes a medication, watch for such symptoms as over sedation, increased confusion, tremors or tics.
  5. Assess and evaluate — Assess the situation and determine whether or not the hallucination is a problem for you or for the individual. Is the hallucination upsetting to the person? Is it leading him or her to do something dangerous? Does the sight of an unfamiliar face cause him or her to become frightened? If so, react calmly and quickly with reassuring words and comforting touching.
  6. Respond with caution — Be cautious and conservative in responding to the person’s hallucinations. If the hallucination doesn’t cause problems for you, the person or other family members, ignore it.
  7. Don’t argue with the person about what he or she sees or hears. Unless the behavior becomes dangerous, you might not need to intervene.
  8. Offer reassurance— Reassure the person with kind words and a gentle touch. For example, you might want to say: “Don’t worry. I’m here. I’ll protect you. I’ll take care of you,” or “I know you’re worried. Would you like me to hold your hand and walk with you for awhile?” Gentle patting may turn the person’s attention toward you and reduce the hallucination.
  9. Also look for reasons or feelings behind the hallucination and try to find out what the hallucination means to the individual. For example, you might want to respond with words such as these: “It sounds as if you’re worried” or “I know this is frightening for you.”
  10. Use distraction — Suggest that the person come with you on a walk or sit next to you in another room. Frightening hallucinations often subside in well-lit areas where other people are present. You might also try to turn the person’s attention to a favorite activity, such as listening to music, drawing, looking at a photo album or counting coins.
  11. Respond honestly— Keep in mind that the person may sometimes ask you about the hallucination. For example, “Do you see him?” You may want to answer with words such as these: “I know that you see something, but I don’t see it.” In this way, you’re not denying what the person sees or hears or getting involved in an argument.
  12. Assess the reality of the situation — Ask the person to point to the area where he or she sees or hears something. Glare from a window may look like snow to the person, and dark squares on tiled floor may look like dangerous holes.
  13. Modify the environment — If the person looks at the kitchen curtains and sees a face, you may be able to remove, change or close the curtains.
    Check the surroundings for noises that might be misinterpreted, for lighting that casts shadows, or for glare, reflections or distortions from the surfaces of floors, walls and furniture. If the person insists that he or she sees a strange person in the mirror, cover up the mirror or take it down. It’s also possible that the person doesn’t recognize his or her own reflection. Turn on more lights to reduce shadows that could look scary to your loved one.
  14. Hallucinations are very real to the person you care for. You can ease feelings of fear by using words that are calm, gentle and reassuring.

Warmly………David

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5 Responses

  1. Very good, lovely advice, David.

    Louise

  2. Hi David. Excellent info – all three parts were very informative. I just added you to Delicious and stumbled you 🙂 How are you feeling? You’re in my prayers often 🙂 🙂 🙂 Have a blessed week.

  3. Hello David,

    Thanks so much for this really informative post. I’m going to read it a few times. It will certainly help me to try to respond in ways that will help Dad.

    I hope you and Pam are finding lots of pleasure in your planting.

  4. Wonderful, informative post. Great tips to abide by!
    Barbara

  5. Hello,
    I have been experiencing very persistent, dissociative-based hallucinations of all 5 senses (primarily auditory, followed by tactile&visual, then rare olfactory & only two gustatory experiences), since the second half of 2015, for six months now. I thought perhaps I might offer my opinions on the insights provided in this article on helping those with hallucinations (I’ll try to be brief, but no promises :).
    Regarding medical advice, I would add asking one’s doctor about the person’s thyroid level, particularly if it is low, as I’ve been told by my doctor that hypothyroidism (low thyroid) may cause hallucinations, along with hair loss & other terrible symptoms.
    I think my one critique of David’s article is the way he worded the last sentence of point #6: “If the hallucination doesn’t cause problems (for anyone), ignore it.” I don’t think that family members & caregivers should fundamentally ignore the situation, although of course it won’t be the primary focus at all times, except perhaps initially &/or in acute cases (I could focus on nothing else for about the first month & a half, as I adjusted to realizing for myself that they were not “real” in the common sense, they weren’t going to go away by my willing it and that I did not have to abide by their bidding. I think, by the way, that this may be very helpful advice to repeat to someone at the onset of hallucinations, although they may need to figure it out themselves). Also, I feel it’s very important to always have someone to talk to about one’s inner turmoils at any time, and in my experience it was very, very difficult that even my closest confidant turned away from this issue when it hit me hardest; I wouldn’t want anyone in a similar position to be without others to talk to, even when things are (or appear to be) going smoothly.
    I feel that the most important points to keep in mind from this article (as well as seeing a doctor) are as follows:
    8: Offer reassurance. Personally, I feel most assured when someone recognizes where I am coming from, validates that with words, then expresses some form of understanding or at least sympathy for what my situation might feel like, coming from them. It’s absolutely necessary that it be genuine.
    9: Validation of what one is going through. Along with the validation that comes with assurance, there’s the validation of that one understands that the experience the person is having is, in it’s own way (scientifically proven for those who won’t believe otherwise), entirely real.
    11: I think one of the most important aspects of David’s eleventh point is that it helps to alleviate some of the great amount of confusion associated with hallucinating. I often hear and auditorily hallucinate inconspicuous sounds; often, I don’t know which is which until, in some cases, I’ve heard them many, many times and picked up a cue that helps me to differentiate the one from the other. As this is mostly the case with hallucinations/sounds that, in my experience, sound as though they take place outside my head, it would help me to ask someone, and for them to tell me that they do or don’t hear what I’m hearing.
    14. This reiterates two important points: the hallucinations are very real, particularly to those experiencing them; also, it’s important to approach responding to this person in a calm, honest and caring manner.
    I really appreciate this article, David, thank you. I hope it was okay of me to respond to it at such length.

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