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How to Respond to Dementia Hallucinations

Woman spending time with her elderly mother

If your loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, they may experience seeing, hearing, or tasting something that isn’t really there. These experiences are known as dementia hallucinations. It’s important to remember that even though a hallucination isn’t real, it’s incredibly real to your loved one who is experiencing it. Keeping your loved one safe and reassured during their hallucinations is essential, and in this article our team will discuss how to best respond to dementia hallucinations. If you have any questions or need support from a memory care professional, please contact us. 

Determine if a Response is Needed

When you hear the word “hallucination” it might conjure up negative images in your mind, and that’s probably because many movies and TV shows often depict hallucinations as scary and violent. In reality, some people experience pleasant and positive hallucinations, and if this is the case for your loved one, is there really a need to interrupt them? 

If your loved one isn’t trying to harm themselves or someone else, and if they don’t seem upset or emotionally distraught, it’s probably not necessary to interrupt their positive dementia hallucination. It can be confusing for you because they may not be able to verbalize what they are seeing, hearing, feeling, or tasting, but you can usually gauge the nature of the hallucination by observing  your loved one’s body language, emotions, and breathing.  

Stay Calm and Don’t Argue or Try to Convince Using Logic

While it can be scary to watch your loved one experience a dementia hallucination, it’s important that you stay calm and don’t argue with them. For example, if they’re having a visual hallucination and they’re seeing a huge spider on the wall, telling them there is no spider won’t help the situation at all. Their brain is telling them that the spider is there, and that it’s real, so arguing with them can sometimes make them feel even more agitated. 

We understand that it’s difficult to understand dementia hallucinations for those of us who have never experienced them, but we recommend staying calm. Ask your loved one questions about what they are experiencing. For example, ask what the spider is doing: Is it trying to hurt them? Is it just minding its own business on the wall? Most importantly, remember to resist the urge to argue with them or tell them that what they are experiencing isn’t real; Hallucinations are extremely real to the people who have them. 

Validate Their Feelings and Provide Reassurance

When your loved one is experiencing a dementia hallucination, your first thought is probably something like “How can I stop this, and how can I prevent this from happening again?” Unfortunately hallucinations are a part of dementia. While you can’t stop them or prevent them, you can validate your loved one’s feelings and provide reassurance so they feel safe and understood. 

We never recommend being dismissive of your loved one, or minimizing what they are going through. Saying something like, “Stop being silly, there’s nothing there!” is not helpful and can cause your loved one to feel even more upset. Instead, sit with them and ask them questions about what they are experiencing: Are they seeing someone in the room? Hearing a dog bark? Tasting peanut butter? Ask them to describe their hallucination in as much detail as possible, and respond appropriately to the emotions they are expressing. 

For example, if they tell you they’re having a hallucination that makes them feel overwhelmed or stressed, you should respond with, “I’m sorry you’re experiencing this, it sounds very stressful, I’m here with you.” 

If you have any questions about how to best handle dementia hallucinations, or if you’d like more information about senior care in New Jersey, please contact our team at UMC today: https://umcommunities.org

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