Learn about dementia-related hallucinations and delusions
Hallucinations and delusions can create new challenges
Hallucinations and delusions can cause a person to lose touch with reality, and their loved ones to lose touch with them. These symptoms may sometimes be severe enough to cause a disruption in daily life.
For instance, these symptoms may affect a person’s ability to do day-to-day activities or to communicate with other people. Others around them may find it difficult to care for or interact with them too.
See if you notice signs like these in yourself or your loved one. If you do, talk to your doctor so you and your family can get the help you need.
Hallucinations and delusions may be more common than you think
In the United States, about 1 in 3 people with dementia may experience these symptoms.
Signs of dementia-related hallucinations and delusions
Learn about the types of hallucinations and delusions that may occur with dementia.
If you see these signs in yourself or your loved one, ask your doctor for help. To prepare for that conversation, fill out a doctor discussion guide.
Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or feeling things that are not there, such as:
Seeing people or things that aren’t there
“Who’s that man in the living room?”
Hearing things that others don’t
“Someone is talking outside of the bedroom.”
Seeing animals or insects that aren't there
"There's a cat walking through the kitchen."
Seeing relatives inside the house who aren’t there
“My mother is sitting in that chair.”
Seeing children who aren’t there
“There's a little boy in the house.”
Believing things that are not true, such as:
Believing comments, objects or events are directed at you
“They’re talking about me on the news again.”
Believing someone is trying to steal or hide things from you
“You’re stealing my things!”
Believing there are strangers in the house
“There's a woman living in our guest room.”
Believing someone is trying to harm, poison, or deceive you
"That's not medicine, you're trying to poison me!"
Believing people or objects on TV are real
“The TV host is in our living room.”
Believing people have abandoned you
“You’re going to leave me!”
Believing your significant other is having an affair
“You’re having an affair!”
Speak to your doctor
Hallucinations and delusions may not seem serious at first. But that can change. These symptoms can become more frequent over time and may persist.
That's why you should speak to your doctor as soon as you notice these symptoms in yourself or your loved one. Your doctor can help you determine the best course of action.
Speak up. The sooner you have a conversation with your doctor, the better prepared you'll be for these symptoms. This doctor discussion guide may help you start that conversation.
A guide to understanding hallucinations and delusions
A fact sheet that explains what these symptoms are, common signs to look out for, and more. Download this information so you always have it handy when you need it.
6 practical tips for caregivers
Always speak to your doctor if you believe that your loved one, who has been diagnosed with dementia, may be experiencing dementia-related hallucinations or delusions. With the help of your doctor, you may want to consider some tips from the Alzheimer's Association. These tips may help you better communicate with your loved one and may help you navigate these symptoms.
These tips are for educational purposes only. You should discuss them with your doctor. They are not medical advice and should not be used if there is threatening or dangerous behavior.
1. Decide if any action is needed
If you believe that your loved one, who has been diagnosed with dementia, may be having a hallucination or delusion, remain calm and assess the situation. When assessing the situation, you may want to ask yourself the following questions to help you discuss your loved one's symptoms with your doctor:
Is the hallucination or delusion upsetting your loved one?
Is your loved one frightened?
Is the hallucination or delusion encouraging your loved one to do anything dangerous?
Your natural reaction may be to correct your loved one. But if the hallucination or delusion is causing no harm, it may be best not to overly react to it and to speak with your doctor. If you think a response is needed, and with the help of your doctor, you may want to try some of the tips on this page.
As a reminder, if you're concerned about your loved one's symptoms, always ask a doctor for help.
2. Avoid getting into an argument
Sometimes your loved one, who has been diagnosed with dementia, may say hurtful or unthinkable things. Consider that this may probably be the dementia talking. There may be nothing you can say that will change their mind. So while it is hard, try to avoid arguing or taking what they say or do personally.
Instead, consider looking for feelings behind their hallucination or delusion. For example, do you notice that your loved one is scared? If so, you can try to say something like, "I can see that you're scared." And then try to reassure them with kind words and perhaps a comforting touch.
3. Be calm and reassuring
Having a dementia-related hallucination or delusion may sometimes be upsetting for your loved one. Be calm and try to reassure them with comforting phrases like, “Don’t worry, I’m here. I’ll take care of you,” or “Would you like me to hold your hand and walk with you a little bit?"
Kind words and a gentle touch may turn their attention away from what has upset them. It may also help to change the subject or shift their focus to a different activity.
4. Be honest about the situation
If your loved one asks you about a dementia-related hallucination or delusion, it may be helpful to be honest with them. Try not to deny what your loved one is experiencing. For example, if your loved one asks, "Do you see him?" You could say, "I know you see someone there, but I don't." That way, you may help them acknowledge what is real without making them feel bad about what they are experiencing.
5. Pay attention to the environment
Sometimes what seems to be a dementia-related hallucination could be your loved one misinterpreting something that is real. For example, your loved one might see a shadow cast by a lamp and mistake it for a person or an object. If you notice something that is a trigger, try making adjustments (for example, turning on more lights to reduce shadows).
6. Try using distractions
If your loved one is experiencing a dementia-related hallucination or delusion, try shifting their attention to something else. Sometimes, moving them to a well-lit room or suggesting they come with you on a walk may help. Other times, you can try to distract them with activities. These can include looking at photos, listening to music, or drawing.
Be sure to discuss these tips with your doctor. Always ask your doctor for help if you are concerned about your loved one's dementia-related hallucinations or delusions.
When Maureen's mother began accusing her of theft, Maureen turned to a doctor for help.*
Ready to speak to your doctor?
A doctor discussion guide can help you prepare for that conversation.