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Dementia and hallucinations have a connection in some individuals, with about 10 percent of individuals who have dementia experiencing hallucinations. Dementia is a term that describes a progressive, slow decline in one's mental ability. A hallucination is an experience during which an individual believes he or she sees, hears, smells or feels something that is not there.
A variety of medical conditions can cause dementia. Many conditions lead to irreversible dementia that progressively worsens, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease and permanent brain damage caused by tumors or head injuries. Other types of dementia can be reversed, such as dementia caused by vitamin deficiencies, removable brain tumors, toxins, excessive drug or alcohol use and brain hemorrhages. Some people who suffer from major depression also show signs that mimic dementia.
Symptoms of dementia include memory problems, difficulty with language, feeling disoriented and exhibiting inappropriate or disruptive behavior. Dementia is most common in individuals over the age of 65. When dementia is irreversible, mental functionality usually deteriorates over a time frame of two to 10 years. Depending on the cause of dementia, treatment might be available to slow the rate of decline. Dementia in the early states usually starts with forgetting recent events and struggling with appropriate judgment and abstract thinking, and as the condition worsens, some sufferers begin to struggle with dementia and hallucinations.
Hallucinations are a symptom of psychosis, which is a disturbance in thought process and perception. Mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and psychotic depression can cause hallucinations. Hallucinations also can result from drug and alcohol use, epilepsy, high fever, severe illness and dementia.
There are many types of hallucinations that cause an individual to sense things that do not exist. Types of hallucinations include auditory hallucinations, during which voices are heard; olfactory hallucinations, during which smells and odors are experienced; and visual hallucinations, during which something is seen. With individuals who have dementia and hallucinations, the most common type is visual hallucinations.
Caring for someone who suffers from dementia and hallucinations can be extremely challenging. If a hallucination is not causing fear or anxiety, it is best for the caregiver to do nothing. For hallucinations that are upsetting, it is recommended that caregivers use the "Three R's" method to reassure, respond, and refocus dementia patients.
For example, if a man with dementia believes that he saw someone poison his food, the caregiver should start by calmly telling him that he or she was there and did not see anyone around his food. Next, the caregiver should respond by offering to check the kitchen or talk to nurses to see if they observed anything. Finally, the caregiver should refocus the patient's attention to a pleasant activity, such as watching television or working on a word search puzzle.