Dementia and Delusions/Hallucinations
Dementia takes an immense emotional toll on caregivers and it can be really hard to cope with. It’s important to remember that dementia is a symptom of a disease, not the disease. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Dementia is “a broad category of brain diseases that cause long-term and often gradual decreases in the ability to think and remember that is great enough to affect a person’s daily functioning”.
One of the symptoms of dementia is delusions. In a nutshell, a delusion is a belief that may be bizarre, weird, or untrue that is fixed – no amount of evidence will change the belief. Delusions are unfortunately common in dementia, with about 1/3 of patients having them. It’s heart-breaking to see someone we love experience this. Some common delusions can be that someone/something is spying on the sufferer, moving things around, stealing their items, or that a loved one is having an affair.
Delusions can be scary-not only to the caregiver but also to the sufferer. The important thing to note is that it’s not done on purpose. It feels very real to the patient. Because it’s not rational, arguing or trying to convince the sufferer that it’s untrue will not help. In fact, it might make things worse. The sufferer might get defensive and it might even fuel their false beliefs. We have to remember that the person with dementia is trying to understand their world and environment, while also having decreased cognitive function.
You can respond in a few different ways:
- Reassure and comfort the person. Respond to their emotions, not their words. For example, if they are scared someone is breaking into their home, maybe say “That must be really scary to think that. I’ll keep you safe.”
- Don’t take it personally. Listen to their emotions and try to understand their reality. Validate their feelings and let them know you care.
- Don’t try to convince the person that their delusion is false. Respond to the feeling that it evokes.
- Use as few words as possible. You don’t want to overwhelm or confuse the person.
- Distract. Engage the individual in another activity or ask them to help with a chore. Maybe offer a snack, watch a TV show together, or make a puzzle.
- Take care of yourself. It’s important that you don’t experience caregiver burnout. Read more about why burnout matters and how to prevent it here. https://www.deermeadowshomehealth.org/our-blog/taking-care-of-caregivers-social-workers-point-of-view