Hallucinations and Alzheimer's Disease

by Christine Kennard Health Professional

Hallucinations are not uncommon in Alzheimer's disease and usually occur in the middle/moderate stage of the disease. Hallucinations can affect any of the senses, so a person may hear, see, taste, touch or smell things that are not really there. Hallucinations occur without external stimulation and those experiencing them believe them to be real. In Alzheimer's disease hallucinations tend to be visual. They often involve dead relatives, a wife, a husband or child.

Hallucinations tend not to be threatening and may not worry the patient at all. They may be quite short in duration - perhaps sounding like a question, an answer, a comment or even a chuckle. Occasionally they can be very disturbing. The person may believe they are being persecuted, followed or threatened in some fashion. The resulting behavior could be very difficult to manage.

Hallucinations may occur for many different reasons and are not necessarily the result of Alzheimer's. Because of this anyone with Alzheimer's disease who starts experiencing hallucinations should be assessed by a doctor.

Some other reasons people hallucinate:

  • High temperatures due to infection.

  • Drug sensitivity. This is quite common in the elderly.

  • Interaction between different drugs.

  • Diseases and some medical conditions such as brain injury, kidney failure, liver failure and brain cancer.

  • Psychiatric illness such as severe depression or schizophrenia.

Poor eyesight, as a result of cataracts or other eye problems, can lead to distorted visual perception. Spectacles not being worn or eyesight not being checked is another possible source of visual disturbance. Hearing aid problems may result in auditory disturbances

Hallucinations & DelusionBecause of distortions in perception it is not uncommon for hallucinations to be accompanied by delusions. A delusion is a fixed false belief which may result in false accusations. When this occurs someone with Alzheimer's disease who is experiencing hallucinations may become violent and harm her/himself or others.

Challenging behaviors resulting from Alzheimer's often require the help of experts in that field. A medical evaluation must take priority in order to exclude other possible reasons for hallucinations. Healthcare practitioners such as gerontologists, family doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health nurses, etc, can provide caregivers with support and offer effective treatments.

Christine Kennard
Meet Our Writer
Christine Kennard

Christine Kennard wrote about Alzheimer's for HealthCentral. She has many years of experience in private and public sector nursing care homes for people with dementia. She has worked in a variety of hospital, public and private health settings and specialized in community nursing. Christine is qualified in group analytic psychotherapy, is registered in general and mental health nursing and has a Masters degree.