Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 8th 2015 Contents Hallucinations are false perceptions
of objects or events involving the sens-
es. In late-stage Alzheimer s, such
false perceptions may often be caused
by changes within the brain caused
by the disease.
The person may see the face of a
former friend in a curtain, for instance,
or may see insects crawling on his or
her hand. In other cases, a person may
hear someone talking and may even
engage in conversation with the imag-
ined person. Alzheimer s and other
dementias are not the only cause of
hallucinations. Other causes include
schizophrenia; physical problems, such
as kidney or bladder infections, dehy-
dration, intense pain, or alcohol or drug
abuse; eyesight or hearing problems;
and effects of medications.
What are these hallucinations like?
One story from NPR s series Inside
Alzheimer s (from the NPR show All
Things Considered) has been taking a
look at it in its recent programming.
The radio show interviewed Greg
O Brien, a longtime journalist in Cape
Cod, about his struggle to deal with
the hallucinations that are an increasing
part of his illness. O Brien was diag-
nosed with early-onset Alzheimer s
disease in 2009.
Greg O Brien sees things that he
knows aren t there, and these visual
disturbances are becoming more fre-
quent. That s not uncommon; up to 50
per cent of people who have Alzheimer s
disease experience hallucinations, delu-
sions or psychotic symptoms, recent
At first, O Brien just saw spider-like
forms floating in his peripheral vision.
"They move in platoons," he said. But
in the last year or so, the hallucinations
have been more varied, and often more
disturbing. A lion. A bird. Sprays of
blood among the spiders.
Over the past five months, O Brien
has turned on an audio recorder when
the hallucinations start, in hopes of
giving people insight into what
Alzheimer s feels like.
For now, he says, "I m able to func-
tion. But I fear the day, which I know
will come, when I can t."
The Lion, March 17: "Today I m just
seeing this thing in front of me. It looks
like a lion, almost looks like something
you d see in The Lion King, and there
are birds above it. It s floating, and it
disintegrates...it disintegrates...it dis-
"This time it s somewhat playful,
but a lot of times it isn t. There are
times when you sense it coming on.
It s like a numbing sensation, a tingling
in the back of your brain."
The Spiders, April 4: "Oh (no), here
they come again those...spiders. I can t
seem to shake them. It s about close
to 10 o clock in the morning and I see
these freaking things again. They re
insect-like. They re spider-like. They
have stringy, hairy legs. They crawl.
They re crawling along the top of the
ceiling toward me, now walking into
the bedroom, into the living room to
see if I can escape."
The Bird, April 4: "Recently, I woke
up in the morning---wide awake---and
there was a bird flying in my bedroom.
And I see this bird flying, and I m say-
ing, how the hell do I get the bird out
of here? And then I see the bird flying
in tighter and tighter and tighter circles.
And all of a sudden the bird---beak
first---it darted almost in a suicide mis-
sion, exploding into my heart. Then I
realised it wasn t real."
When responding to hallucinations,
it is best to be cautious with the patient,
advises The Alzheimer s Association,
the world s leading voluntary health
organisation in Alzheimer s care and
research, with headquarters based in
Chicago, Illinois, USA.
First, assess the situation and deter-
mine whether the hallucination is a
problem for the person or for you. Is
the hallucination upsetting? Is it leading
the person to do something dangerous?
Is the sight of an unfamiliar face causing
the person to become frightened? If
so, react calmly and quickly with reas-
suring words and a comforting touch.
Do not argue with the person about
what he or she sees or hears, advises
the organisation. If the behaviour is
not dangerous, there may not even be
a need to intervene.
Respond in a calm, supportive man-
ner. You may want to respond with,
"Don t worry. I m here. I ll protect you.
I ll take care of you."
Acknowledge the feelings behind the
hallucination, and try to find out what
the hallucination means to the indi-
vidual. You might want to say: "It
sounds as if you re worried" or "I know
this is frightening for you."
You can also sometimes use distrac-
tions, like suggesting a walk or move
to another room. Frightening halluci-
nations often subside in well-lit areas
where other people are present. You
can try to turn the person s attention
to music, conversation or activities you
Another coping strategy is to modify
the environment. Check for sounds
that might be misinterpreted, such as
noise from a television or an air con-
ditioner. Look for lighting that casts
shadows, reflections or distortions on
the surfaces of floors, walls and fur-
niture. Turn on lights to reduce shad-
ows. Cover mirrors with a cloth or
remove them if the person thinks that
he or she is looking at a stranger.
(www.alz.org & www.npr.org)
body & soul
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Monday, June 8, 2015
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
News and advice
Alzheimer's patients in later stages may experience hallucinations.
IMAGE: RUSSELL COBB/GETTY IMAGES/IKON IMAGES
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