The Whitworths of Arizona, bringing science to you in everyday language.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Dealing with Hallucinations and Delusions

 “I feel so helpless,” the LBD support group member said. “He has these terrible delusions and won’t let go of them. He makes me part of them, saying I’m bad, playing around on him. Naturally it does no good to tell him he’s wrong. I tried entering his reality, but that made him even madder.  What do I do?” 

People with dementia have lost their “thinking filter.” They go directly from feeling to action. As your loved one feels more and more helpless, fear of rejection becomes common. This is often expressed with the type of delusions the speaker described.  The fear becomes the delusion, and your distress only feeds it, increasing their stress, which in turn, increases behavior. Here are some suggestions that have worked for other caregivers:

First, some Don’ts:

  •       Don’t try to reason. You can’t reason with someone whose thinking ability is impaired. This increase stress—yours, and in turn, his.
  •            Don’t say they are wrong—that what they feel or see isn’t real. (How would feel to be told that what you believe with your whole being is not true?)
  •       Don’t get angry, sarcastic or impatient.  This will only make the situation worse.

Now the Do’s:
  •  If it is not causing your loved one distress, ignore it. (Hallucinations and delusions often cause more concern to the caregiver than they do to the loved one. Learn to live with the benign acting out.)
  • LBD folks usually start out knowing their hallucinations or illusions aren’t real, even though they may be quite vivid. Therefore, early on, you may be able to verify that, for instance, the flashes of light aren’t a raging fire. But don’t push it. If your loved one is beyond reason, your “reassurance” will feel like an attack on their perceptions—and on them.
  • If you possibly can, enter your loved one’s reality enough to distract or redirect the behavior.
  • Try to distract with reminiscences about happier times in the past, when both of you felt good about each other. People with dementia have a short interest span and they operate on feelings. If you can get him to focus on reliving the positive, loving feelings, the negative feelings feeding the delusion may decrease.
  •  Remember to de-stress the environment. (See last blog.)
  • While LBD folks have more acting-out behaviors than people with other dementias, their sensitivity to acting-out drugs is so great that managing behavior via drugs may cause more problems than it solves. More about this in future blogs. 

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