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

Friday, April 21, 2017

Dealing with BPSD: Hallucinations

Last week's blog was about how to defuse negative emotions. That's an important basis for dealing with most behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSDs).
  • These emotions often drive the resulting acting-out behaviors such as aggression or withdrawal.
  • Without these energy-robbing feelings, the PlwD has more personal reserves for dealing with the dementia symptoms themselves, such as hallucinations.
There are also ways to deal with each symptom as well. Today's symptom is hallucinations.

My dad, Hank, has LBD. Lately, he's been having a lot of hallucinations. Most of them are harmless and manageable--workmen in his house or on his property. But some aren't. How do I convince him that there really isn't a man in his house holding a gun to his head? He thinks I'm nuts when I tell him it isn't real. Someone suggested that I use a spray bottle to get rid of the hallucinations, but that didn't work. Dad just thought it was silly. His doctor suggested Namenda. I plan to research Abilify too. -- Maude

LBD tends to attack a person's thinking skills even before it affects memory. When Hank first started getting hallucinations, he may have known that they weren't real. But as his ability to think abstractly fades, he can no longer tell the difference between hallucinations and reality. They are HIS reality and he is stuck with them.The more Maude tries to convince him of HER reality, the more frustrated, hurt, or angry he will get. (Think about how you'd feel if someone tried to convince you that you didn't really live in your home. Sounds absurd, doesn't it? Insulting, even, for them to even think they could do this. Well, that's how Maude's father feels when she tries to spray away his reality. "How silly and insulting!" he thinks. Maude has tried some things that don't work well.

These is what you can do:
  • Ask if the people are bothering your loved one. If they aren't, they are not the one with problem. YOU are. Relax. Let it go. Learn to deal with the hallucinations by accepting them as a part of the disease. (See previous blogs on hallucinations and delusions.)
  • Be willing to join the PlwD's reality and "play along" enough to get rid of an annoying or frightening hallucination. (See previous blogs on improv theater.) Do more or less what you would do to get rid of the situation if it were real. For instance, Maude can tell the man to take his gun and leave. Stand at the door and usher him out. Close the door. (Understand that this just takes care of this time. The "man with a gun" can show up again. Even if you took the gun away, her dad wouldn't remember that.)
  • Do consider dementia drugs like Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne and Namenda. They address more than just cognition. If your father also has Parkinson's, ask his doctor to review his PD drugs. They can also cause hallucinations. But your accepting attitude will help more than anything.
  • Be careful with antipsychotics like Abilify. Research shows that while it is not as dangerous for a PlwD as Haldol, it is more dangerous than Seroquel and about as dangerous as Resperdal, Zyprexa and Geodon. All of these drugs except Haldol are "second generation" antipsychotics often prescribed for BPSDs. All of them should be monitored very carefully to assure that they don't cause more problems than they solve. (reference)
  • Do take care of yourself. The PlwD mirrors your feelings. A calm, healthy, happy caregiver means fewer dementia symptoms, including hallucinations. (See previous blogs on dealing with emotions and on caregiver care.)
Future blogs about dealing with BPSD will be on shadowing and being in the moment,

* Acronyms:
LBD: Lewy body dementia
PlwD: person living with dementia
PlwLBD: person living with LBD
DLB: dementia with Lewy bodies
PDD: Parkinson's disease with dementia
MCI: mild cognitive impairment
MCI-LB: the form of MCI that precedes LBD
BPSD: behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia

For information about Lewy body disorders, read our books:
A Caregivers’ Guide to Lewy Body Dementia
Managing Cognitive Issues in Parkinson's and Lewy Body Dementia

Helen and James Whitworth are not doctors, lawyers or social workers. As informed caregivers, they share the information here for educational purposes only. It should never be used instead of a professional's advice.

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