While “forgetfulness” is a common aspect of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, Van Nuys residents receiving palliative care may show other symptoms that can be confusing or even disturbing such as hallucinations or delusions.
Because the team at Accredited Home Care has been working with clients with dementia in Southern California for 35 years, we’re familiar with the wide variety of symptoms that can be displayed by people at different stages.
Different types of dementias progress differently, and some people display different symptoms, which makes it a challenge to tell everyone to always expect the same behaviors and actions. And although Alzheimer’s is currently considered irreversible, some dementias actually can be reduced.
Research is continuing into all dementias, especially Alzheimer’s disease, which affects more than 50 million people worldwide.
This month is a perfect time to learn more. The Alzheimer’s Association has declared June to be Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, an opportunity to join others in learning, supporting, advocating and taking action to stop Alzheimer’s disease in every community.
There are all sorts of things people can do to show support, such as putting the #endalz tag on social media posts. But an easy one is to wear purple in June and let people know.
Part of learning about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is gaining more knowledge about some of the symptoms that aren’t much fun.
As the brain changes and deteriorates, behaviors often change, and people are known to act differently or have different thoughts, opinions, and anxieties than they did earlier in life. They can be more aggressive or take the opposite approach of not being responsive.
One common behavior is an increase in delusions, which is generally described as believing things that aren’t real or true. This can take the form of paranoia, such as falsely accusing caregivers or even family members of doing things like stealing from them, or neighbors that are doing things that are suspicious.
Delusions are common in mid- to late-dementias.
People suffering from them may have a variety of fearful or paranoid thoughts, such as that someone is spying on them, that the police are following them, or that someone else is living in their house.
Although some of these beliefs may seem ridiculous to family members and caregivers, the fears and anxieties feel quite true to the person having them, so it’s difficult to convince them otherwise. In fact, trying to persuade them to change their mind about something they’re certain is correct may make them angry, agitated or accuse others of being part of the conspiracy.
Related to delusions, which are untrue facts people believe, some dementia sufferers also experience hallucinations as their brains change. These are things they believe they see, smell or hear that aren’t real.
While just about anyone can sometimes mistake one object for another, especially in poor light or if someone is feeling fatigued, hallucinations are increasingly common in people with dementia.
These can be frightening for the person having them, who can imagine everything from bugs to other people, plus music, sounds or smells. This can also be concerning to caregivers or family members who know that someone is having a hallucination but are unable to verify that they also see/hear/smell the same thing.
Possible reasons for these, besides the general “it’s just dementia” may be triggered by everything from poor light to reactions to certain medications. Sometimes overstimulation or a change in environment may cause stronger feeling s of anxiety which can take the form of delusions or hallucinations.
How to help
Because the person truly may believe their delusions or hallucinations, arguing about them isn’t effective. The first step often should be to contact a health care provider, especially someone with knowledge of the person and palliative care in general.
You can also look into increasing the visibility in the person’s home, such as making sure light bulbs function or buying some that are higher intensity. This can make it easier to see things that might be in the shadows.
A strong, nutritious diet, especially something recommended for those suffering from dementia, may reduce these sorts of symptoms. Keeping routines and schedules the same can also introduce some stability.
In some cases, it wouldn’t hurt to investigate some of their claims or bring the person along to make sure you’re telling the truth, such as checking out the attic or basement to show no one is there. While it might not be smart to accuse someone of theft based on someone’s delusion, you can try to keep an eye on valuables or instruct the person to put items in a safe.
In some cases, if they’re not particularly frightened of a hallucination and it’s not compelling them to harm themselves or others, it might be fine to leave it alone.
With many types of dementia, providing a distraction can often interrupt a period of anxiety, such as inviting them to try a favorite activity or listen to a favorite piece of music.
Overall, the team at Accredited Home Care is happy to work with families in the Van Nuys area who may be encountering these types of delusional behaviors.