hallucinations in the elderly

What Causes Hallucinations in the Elderly?

Hallucinations in the Elderly

Hallucinations can happen in older people for any number of medical conditions, all of which are serious and require extra care. Seniors who have hallucinations are not likely to tell anyone about their visions as they do not want to be seen as mentally unstable. Still, it is important for people who care for older people to know why they have hallucinations at night. Learn how you can help the older person in your life who experiences these issues, or you expect may in the future. 

Are hallucinations normal in the elderly?

Hallucinating refers to changes in the brain caused by dementia that can make a person see, hear, feel, or taste something that is not there. A senior’s senses are warped or misread by their brain, sending out different signals than they should. 

Even if the hallucination is not real, it seems very real to the person having the issue. 

Hallucinations in older people are called geriatric hallucinations. They usually happen in people with cognitive-affective dementia symptoms and can be very mild or so bad that they need to be hospitalized. Elderly people often have hallucinations because their minds are getting worse. 

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and the general decline that comes with getting older can all make it harder for the brain to work as well as it should. Most of the time, the hallucinations are not dangerous and may even make the senior feel better. When these older people with dementia have hallucinations, they might see adults, children, or animals in the room. 

Elderly people are less likely to tell their doctor about hallucinations because of the bad reputation they have for treating the problem, and not everyone wants their hallucinations to go away. Because of this, hallucinations are thought to be underreported. If you have any concerns, your elderly parent sees things they should not, then contact their doctor for a diagnosis and help. 

Signs and symptoms of hallucinations in the elderly

If you do not pay close attention, you might miss the signs of a hallucination in a senior. While hallucinations can scare older people, they are often too embarrassed to tell someone as they view age-related mental health issues as a sign of weakness. Here are some signs and symptoms to look for, as your parent will probably not volunteer the information:

  • – Drastic changes in behavior or mood
  • – Anxiety and irritability
  • – Heightened awareness
  • – Reduced sense of judgment
  • – Confusion and memory lapses
  • – Delusions
  • – Difficulty speaking or expressing their thoughts
  • – Insomnia
  • – Withdrawal
  • – Talking about things or people that are not there

What drugs can cause hallucinations in the elderly?

Some prescription drugs or combinations of medications can cause delirium or lead to hallucinations. Drugs for pain, sleep, mood disorders (like anxiety and depression), allergy medicines (like antihistamines), Parkinson’s disease, anticonvulsants, and asthma can all cause delirium or hallucinations. People over 65 have been known to have hallucinations when they take certain prescription drugs, such as opioids, corticosteroids, and some antibiotics. Also at risk are seniors who take over-the-counter drugs, like herbs or supplements.

Can dehydration cause hallucinations in the elderly?

Many elderly adults experience dehydration due to limited mobility. It happens when the body loses more water than it takes in and can lead to many other complications. Dehydration in older people can be caused by drugs, poor kidney function, or just not drinking enough fluids. Some medicines for high blood pressure get rid of water from the body. Other medicines can cause diarrhea or too much sweating, which can make it more likely for older people to become dehydrated. 

If you do not treat dehydration, it can lead to serious problems. Long-term dehydration can lead to kidney failure, seizures, brain swelling, confusion, delirium, hallucinations, and even death. Many things can make older people confused. Dehydration is only one of them, but if you notice a sudden drop in brain function, you should rule out dehydration as a cause of confusion you cannot explain.

Can infections cause hallucinations in the elderly?

When a senior gets a urinary tract infection (UTI), they can cause unusual behaviors such as hallucinations. Often, this is the only sign that an older person has a UTI. In addition to hallucinations, the older person may feel confused, dizzy, or irritable, or they may fall more often. 

Do hallucinations mean dementia in the elderly?

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia cause people to have hallucinations and false beliefs. However, other issues can cause hallucinations, and dementia and Alzheimer’s are not the only diagnosis. As discussed above, medications, infections, and even dehydration can lead to hallucinations in elderly people. 

When an older person starts to see things that are not there, it is clear that something is wrong, as hallucinations are not normal. When someone sees something not there, it’s a symptom of a problem that warrants attention and a visit to their doctor. This could be caused by a disease and often is, but it could also be due to diet, medications, or even a spiritual problem. 

Before jumping to conclusions, take your elderly parent to their doctor to rule out all other causes, such as eyesight problems. Hallucinations do not always equal deteriorating mental health or neurological issues. At the same time, one or more qualified nutritional health professionals can give your loved one a full workup to find the culprit and treat your parent correctly.

At what stage of dementia do hallucinations occur?

People with dementia do not have hallucinations until they are in the middle to later stages of the disease if they happen at all. Hallucinations are more common in dementia with Lewy bodies and Parkinson’s dementia, but they can also happen with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.

What to do when an elderly person is hallucinating

When your elderly parent has hallucinations, the first thing you should do is go to the doctor. Once the cause of hallucinations has been found, many of them can be treated so that they happen much less often or stop happening altogether. You will need to be careful with how you treat the hallucinations, as they seem very real to your mom or dad. 

The best course of action requires you to go along with the hallucination. You do not need to add to it, but simply express understanding and avoid telling them what they see is not real. Show compassion, find out if the hallucinations are upsetting, and try to help. 

Next, you can try to distract your loved one if an aberration causes them concern. Turn on some music or a movie, play a game, or try changing their scenery to prevent the vision from continuing. Furthermore, a senior with hallucinations does better with a regular routine in a place that is familiar to them. 

Also, ensure they are comfortable in their environment. A strange or confusing place may make hallucinations worse. Good lighting, big clocks, and signs on doors or cabinets can help keep people from getting lost or seeing things that are not there. Remember, hallucinations can be very scary, both for the person having them and for the people around him. 

If someone you care about is having hallucinations, you should not leave them alone. A qualified person who helps someone at home can spot the signs of hallucinations and act quickly. Time and treatment may help to reduce hallucinations, but with dementia, they may never go away, and your parent may need to be in a place safe for them. 

Treatment of hallucinations in the elderly

Even though hallucinations can be scary, they are not impossible to treat. Most of the time, hallucinations are symptoms, not illnesses. Before you can treat hallucinations, you need to find out what is causing them. After that, treatment can start and help your parent to find their normal again. 

Some forms of treatment include medications such as antipsychotics, sleep meds, and anti-anxiety medications. Many patients find their hallucinations to be quite unsettling and need help coping with the anxiety and depression accompanying their other problems. Remember, it’s always worse for them than it is for you to deal with this problem. 

Currently, medications and a safe environment are the only options at the patient’s disposal. If the problem started due to dementia or neurological issues, then there may be nothing doctors can do but help a patient to cope with the problem. However, if hallucinations are a symptom of a different problem, then the doctors can fix it quickly, as a kidney infection may simply need antibiotics to rid the elderly of their vision. 

The first step to treatment, though, requires the patient to admit they are seeing things they should not. As soon as they say something or you notice the signs listed above, take them to their doctor. Elderly people do not need to handle hallucinations on their own and should be in an environment where they feel comfortable discussing their mental health.

Related Articles

Latest Blog Posts
Skin Breakdown in Elderly: Causes & Prevention

Skin breakdown is a significant concern in elderly care and poses risks of pressure ulcers, infection, and serious complications.

Are Bed Rails Allowed in Assisted Living Facilities?

The use of physical restraints is highly regulated in California to ensure the rights and dignity of residents are protected.

How to Help an Elderly Person With Depression

Depression in the elderly can often manifest differently than in younger individuals, making it important to recognize the signs and symptoms that are more prevalent in this age group.

A Guide for Causes of Disorientation and Confusion in Elderly

Disorientation can significantly impact an elderly person's ability to perform daily activities safely and independently, and it may fluctuate in intensity over time.

Our Services

Memory Care

Our experienced staff provides a structured environment where residents with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias can thrive with set routines.

Club Stellar

Residents who are early on in the progression of their dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may be eligible for our Club Stellar program and special rate.


Our staff prepares nutritious meals three times a day, featuring in-season fruits and vegetables, homemade soups, and diabetic options.


The Stellar Care activities staff curates tailored activities, field trips, and programs for all residents at various levels in the progression of their dementia.

A Memory Care Community

4518 54th Street  San Diego, CA 92115
Phone: (619) 287-2920

LICENSE #374603625

Copyright © 2023 by Stellar Care | Website Development by blue media marketing, Inc.