Michele's Blog


By Michele Scott

“I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”  A familiar line to a much loved song however, for seniors and the elderly suffering from mental, behavioral or psychotic disorders, the things they see, hear, taste and feel might be more serious than a dream; they might be hallucinating. The holidays bring sights, smells and sounds which trigger memories - memories which might lead to hallucinations. A side effect of dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, depression, psychosis, epilepsy, Schizophrenia, cancer, kidney failure and some medications, hallucinations are false sensory perceptions while awake and conscious. Telling someone they are hallucinating will not change or alter their perception. In many cases confrontation results in agitation leading to fright or flight. If the hallucinator is suffering a serious mental illness they can experience paranoia, creating a dangerous environment for themselves and for those around them.

There is a difference in hallucinations or delirium and a healthy person sensing a smell, a sound or an apparition of a loved one sitting on the end of a bed. Many experience the presence of a long-time spouse who has recently passed, or the smell of a favorite dessert. Smelling smoke from a fireplace or hearing a familiar tune on the radio can trigger a dream state – pleasant, yet acknowledged to be unreal. Identifying the difference can save a loved one’s life. If the hallucinators is engulfed in the hallucination, misinterpreting the intent of those around them, feeling cornered, hearing loud voices or attempting to escape you should respond with the appropriate level of force. If law enforcement is called, list any mental, behavioral or psychotic disorders and the type of hallucination being experienced. Caffeine, drug abuse, migraine headaches, epilepsy, and alcohol withdrawal can trigger hallucinations; yet, it is more common in Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients.

 “While reinforcing reality seems like the logical and kind thing to do, this natural instinct can be wrong. Family caregivers can ensure they’re prepared to handle these challenging behaviors by learning the differences between them and proper coping techniques for each one. Hallucinations, delusions and paranoia are symptoms of disease and not a normal part of aging. While they may seem similar, they are actually very different. Hallucinations are false sensory experiences that can be visual, auditory and/or tactile. These perceptions cannot be corrected by telling a patient that they’re not real. Delusions are fixed false beliefs that are not supported by reality. They are often caused by a faulty memory. Paranoia is centered around suspiciousness. Elderly individuals often project hostility and frustration onto caregivers through paranoid behaviors.” www.agingcare.com

Including seniors in holiday events, decorating, shopping, gift wrapping, and meal planning keeps them mentally active and engaged. Display memorabilia that is real, ask they to share stories of past holidays and “intentionally” include them in family discussions. Hallucinations are an known side effect of many physical, mental, behavioral and emotional diseases and disorders.  Regular mental health check-ups by a psychiatrist or mental health specialist will lead to early and diagnosis and treatment. The more you know and understand what they are going through, the more help, guidance and support you can give.

Home Helpers In-home Care Services can provide the support you need during the busy holiday season. We are a round the clock, 24/7 home health care provider. Call us to learn more.