There was a time when hanging out with our imaginary friends was a rite of passage during childhood. But stepping into adulthood, seeing and hearing objects and sounds that are not there can signify an untreated medical and psychological problem.
So what happens when the elderly begin to see or hear things that are not there? Here is what you should know about a hallucination, the different types of hallucinations, and the most common causes of hallucinations in the elderly.
What are hallucinations?
The best way to define a hallucination is that it is a false observation of objects or events that involve the primary human body senses, like sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.
Hallucinations may seem natural to the person experiencing them, but they are, in fact, not. In their mind, the reality is misplaced by false images or happenings for a brief time. Instead, chemical reactions or psychological abnormalities in our brains can cause hallucinations.
The causes of hallucinations in elderly people are usually a symptom of a psychosis-related condition, predominantly schizophrenia. However, hallucinations can also result from illegal or un-prescribed substance use, neurological disorders, and other temporary situations.
A senior person may experience hallucinations with or without the insight that what they are sharing is not actually real. When a person starts to think their hallucination is accurate, it then becomes and is considered a psychotic symptom. These are instances where a person with such mental conditions could require memory care.
Types of hallucinations in elderly
Before we get to the cause of hallucinations in elderly people, here are the different types of hallucinations you should become familiar with.
Otherwise known as auditory hallucinations, this is actually one of the most common types of hallucinations experienced among the elderly. Auditory hallucinations involve hearing sounds that are not real.
For example, it can be a tune, certain music, footsteps, or a banging sound. Elderly seniors are known to hear voices when no one has actually spoken. The agents may be optimistic, undesirable, or even impersonal. This leads to confusion at times when the sound disappears.
Visual hallucinations can be the worst and often lead to dangerous situations, mainly if the elderly are involved. Visual hallucinations caused in the elderly include seeing things that are not real or present and generally applying stuff like shapes, people, animals, or distorted reality to an extent.
Tactile or touch hallucinations
These types of hallucinations can cause a person to feel touch on their body or experience bodily movement that is not real. The person hallucinating may feel like bugs or sensations crawling on the skin or inside the internal organs. We often think of strange phenomena in our body that goes unexplained. It can be a sign of tactile hallucinations if it gets worse.
Olfactory or smell hallucinations
These hallucinations typically involve experiencing an unknown odor that does not exist or that any other person in the vicinity can smell.
Gustatory or taste bud hallucinations
A gustatory hallucination causes the taste in our mouth to feel odd or unpleasant. Though it is not random, it rather leaves a metallic taste on our palate. This kind of hallucination is usually a common symptom for people who have epilepsy.
Presence based hallucinations
These type of hallucinations is generally expected. It makes the person feel that there may be someone in the room present with them.
Proprioceptive type hallucinations
Proprioceptive hallucination is a state where we feel our bodies are slightly moving or even floating. It is often expected when we are under heavy fever. But as it transgresses to a more ‘flying state,’ that is a sign of worry.
Top 5 causes of hallucinations in elderly
As we age, our bodies and minds change in small (and not-so-small) ways that are unimaginable until faced with them. One of the things that can change is our level of neurotransmitter function, which can lead to changes in perception, cognition, and behavior, leading to hallucinations.
There are many different hallucinations caused in the elderly, but here are five of the most common ones you should know about.
Specific medications can interfere with neurotransmitter activity and cause hallucinations. Certain medications can even alter your visual sight leading to auditory hallucinations. In addition, medications like antibiotics or even sleep medications can have side effects which can cause hallucinations.
Not getting enough sleep can also lead to hallucinations. It has always been made clear why sleep is essential for us. However, lack of sleep can lead to many problems in the long run. One such problem that is persistent in the elderly is hallucinations. Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and even narcolepsy can be one of the main causes of hallucinations as it leads people with sleep disorders to see or experience things that are not real.
Always stay hydrated. Elderly members of society are riddled with many physical and mental challenges as they age. When it comes to staying hydrated, many other factors, like kidney issues, limit them from over-drinking water. Severe dehydration can cause changes in brain function, as oxygen levels fall and lead to hallucinations.
Underlying medical conditions
Certain medical conditions, such as dementia, and Parkinson’s disease, can cause hallucinations in elderly people. These kinds of underlying medical conditions impact day-to-day life, especially with hallucinations, which alter an already harsh reality.
Mental illness has always been one of the major causes of hallucinations, particularly in the elderly. It is a common cause of hallucinations in the elderly, as mental illnesses are classified as psychosis-related disorders.
In most cases, it preexists in adults and carries up and gets worse into older age. Schizophrenia is one such illness that is common and causes hallucinations.
What diseases can cause hallucinations in the elderly?
Aside from medications that cause hallucinations in the elderly, and general physical problems like UTIs in elderly women, natural diseases can be a significant factor. Listed below are the four leading disease causes of hallucinations and delusions in the elderly.
Dementia is one of the foremost common causes of hallucinations in the elderly. For patients with dementia, life is already hard enough, with being forgetful and whatnot. It is the same for those living with someone who has dementia. At the same time, it is a fact that seniors with dementia have trouble sleeping. They may also see or hear things that are out of place in light of their medical conditions. Such a state of mind can lead to them experiencing hallucinations.
Alzheimer’s disease is undoubtedly the most common form of dementia and can also cause hallucinations. People with Alzheimer’s may experience situations that are not there, or they may hear voices. It gets rougher for elderly members with such a disease because specific hallucinations can lead to agitation, fear, or a state of confusion that could be alarming and cause physical harm in real life.
Even if Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder, it can lead to visual and even auditory hallucinations. As a result, senior adults with Parkinson’s may see things that are not there, or they may see things that are distorted or changed.
If you are concerned about a family member living with hallucinations and want him or her to find proper senior living care, read this guide.
The causes of hallucinations in the elderly can be varied. It can be due to medical reasons or purely psychological. In any case, do not take hallucinations in the elderly lightly. Chances are, what we perceive as something familiar in adults can grow to be a bigger problem in the future.
Like a blister in the foot, it is best to tackle the problem early on before it becomes an infection — hallucinations in the elderly causes severe problems to those other than the sufferer. For prevention and treatment tips, read here.
Is it normal for the elderly to hallucinate?
Though it is often common in young adults to adults to hallucinate, it can be a sign of worry if it starts happening in elderly adults. At the same time, low oxygen levels can also cause hallucinations, especially in the elderly. If a senior person starts frequently hallucinating, consult a medical professional immediately.
Can dehydration cause hallucinations in the elderly?
Dehydration can lead to many complications, especially hallucinations. Older people suffer from such cases as their bodies cannot retain certain fluid levels after a specific age. This, in turn, can lead to headaches, fatigue, delirium, and hallucination, especially if left untreated for a prolonged period.
What drugs cause hallucinations in the elderly?
Every drug can have a side effect, especially in the elderly, who are more prone to its effects. Certain medications like benzodiazepines and narcotics are collective causes of drug-induced hallucinations. Even over-the-counter medication contributes to visual hallucinations in elderly adults.
Can infections cause hallucinations in the elderly?
Certain infections are known to cause hallucinations in the elderly. For example, bacterial infections like meningococcal meningitis may is linked to kidney and adrenal gland failure, which leads to shock where the person is suffering and exhibits flu-like symptoms, which may lead to hallucinations.
Can UTI cause hallucinations in the elderly?
UTI is one of the causes of hallucinations, though further medical studies are still going on to solidify its true impact. A changed mental status is a known symptom of a UTI in a senior person. Therefore, early stages of confusion, agitations including hallucinations or delirium, are attributed as being often caused by UTI in elderly women.
Can antibiotics cause hallucinations in the elderly?
Common antibiotics may cause delirium or hallucinations in the elderly. It is a common side effect and can vary from person to person. Hallucinations in seniors are often reported when they are under strict or heavy antibiotic use as prescribed by the doctors.
Can Ambien cause hallucinations in elderly women?
Ambien is generally used as a sleep problem treatment, taken by adults. However, it can have side effects, including hallucinations, especially in elderly women. There have been several cases where it was reported that taking Ambien, patients or seniors have experienced a form of mild to severe disorientation and hallucinations.