How to Handle Hallucinations and Delusions

Written by Active Minds on Tuesday the 3rd of November 2015.

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If you’re caring for someone living with dementia, you’re probably aware that hallucinations and delusions can be a part of the condition. Such occurrences can be frightening and upsetting both for the person experiencing them and for their carers but, with a little understanding and patience, hallucinations and delusions can be handled without causing too much distress to either party.

Talk to Your GP

As soon as someone starts experiencing hallucinations or delusions, it’s important to visit and inform their GP or dementia care expert. Hallucinations can be a side effect of certain medication or can be treated with other medication so it’s good to get an expert analysis and recommendations.

Understand What’s Happening

There’s a significant difference between hallucinations, delusions, and confusion caused by visual problems. Hallucinations are imagined experiences that affect the senses while delusions are caused by a set of false beliefs that can be triggered by an experience such as not recognising someone or not remembering a conversation. In contrast, visual problems such as distortions or illusions might be confused with hallucinations when they are in fact caused by complications with the eyes. Ask the person what they’re experiencing and pay attention to their behaviour so you can try to understand what they’re going through.

Respond Appropriately

If you’re able to understand what’s happening, you’ll be able to respond in a more helpful way. For example if someone is experiencing a hallucination, it can be beneficial to reassure them or to distract them with conversation or activities. If the problem is a visual one however, something as simple as increasing the lighting can be helpful. Most importantly, try not to correct the person experiencing the hallucination as this can cause embarrassment and a loss of confidence. Try to explain what is happening to them or simply listen to how they are feeling and reassure them that they are safe. If the hallucination or delusion doesn’t seem to be causing distress, it might not be necessary to do anything at all.