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Categories > Aging Well > Alzheimer’s disease and dementia

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Treating hallucinations

When to call for help

If a loved one hallucinates and remains unable to distinguish between hallucinations and reality, don’t leave him or her alone. He or she may become agitated, paranoid or frightened. Call for prompt medical attention and stay with the individual until help arrives. Be prepared to discuss:

  • the time hallucinations began
  • the medications he or she is taking
  • any history of mental illness
  • any physical illnesses
  • any drug or alcohol use

Watching a relative or dear friend lose touch with reality can be an unsettling ordeal. A loved one’s hallucinations—instances of hearing voices or seeing things that aren’t there—can catch you off guard and make you feel helpless. However, hallucinations are treatable and, in some cases, harmless.

Hallucinations in older adults are often a symptom of dementia. Some older adults hallucinate if they’re suffering from delirium, a severe but temporary state of mental confusion. Heart disease, lung disease, infections, poor nutrition, drug interactions and hormone disorders can all cause delirium.

A major emotional event, such as the recent loss of a spouse or loved one, can bring on hallucinations. Hearing a departed love one’s voice or “seeing” him or her is a normal part of the grieving process.

Hallucinations can also be caused by:

  • fever
  • intoxication
  • high doses of drugs
  • drug withdrawal
  • blindness or deafness
  • severe illness such as brain cancer and kidney and liver failure
  • psychiatric disorders

Getting your loved one evaluated by a healthcare professional is crucial since, left untreated, hallucinations can develop into a medical emergency. The doctor will perform a physical examination, which may include a blood test, and obtain your loved one’s medical history. Once the underlying cause is treated, hallucinations usually go away.


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