My loved one is having hallucinations, what can I do to help?
Hallucinations are false perceptions, where your loved one may hear, see, smell, taste or feel things that they believe to be real, but in fact only exist in their mind.
Whatever your loved one is experiencing will be extremely vivid and real to them, so we advise that you remain calm, and resist the urge to tell them that there is nothing there. Instead, accept what they say and support them.
We all want to feel understood, so it’s extremely important to validate the emotion or feeling that they’re experiencing. For example say, “I can see you’re frightened. I’m so sorry you’re frightened. I’m here now”.
Try to take over the hallucination if possible by saying, “I will deal with it. I can sort this”. It can be helpful to take your loved one into another room away from where they are experiencing the hallucinations.
If these measures don’t work, try to observe their body language and the words they use, repeating these back to them. For example:
Loved one, “I can see a man outside … he is looking in … he is staring at me.”
You, “Ok, you can see a man outside. He is looking in … he is staring at you. Do you think he knows you?” Whatever their response, you can go on to say, “I can see you’re still upset about this. The man doesn’t want anything. I will shut the curtains and tell him to go away.”
If your loved one asks further questions, you can say, “It’s alright, he was lost. We have helped him now.” Then try to distract them by talking about something else or ask them to help you with a simple task.
If there is a sensory feel to the hallucinations, for example bugs crawling over their skin, validate this by saying “Oh that’s terrible for you” and then use insect repellent or swat the bugs and generally be animated in your attempts at removing them. It is really important to go along with their fears and needs as much as you can, and within reason.
Keeping calm, match their anxiety at first, then as you start repeating the words back, start to calm and slow your voice down, deepening it if possible. Try and take some deep breaths and encourage your loved one to join you until a sense of calm is restored.
All hallucinations are different but these key steps remain the same: accept what your loved one is saying, keep communication simple, repeat their words, stay calm and let them know that you are taking control of the situation.
For further advice and information about living with dementia, please click here.