How to tell the difference between hallucinations and delusions

In instances where loved ones become ill, it is essential for caregivers to become their loved ones’ advocates, even more so if they are afflicted with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia.

If this should happen to you, being their voice may mean you will have to explain what you believe is ailing them to their physician. This becomes especially important during the latter stages of the disease. You will be required to know the difference between symptoms which can appear very similar.

I have discovered two mental conditions which the general public commonly mistake as being the same thing; hallucinations and delusions.

A delusion is a fictional belief about something, someone or even yourself. For instance, a common delusion that occurs within Alzheimer’s patients is the notion that everyone is stealing from them, taking all of their prized possessions. Suspicion and delusions seem to go hand in hand.

Hallucinations, on the other hand, are false perceptions of objects, people or events. They are not only visible to the person experiencing them, but can be heard, smelled and tasted by the patient. They can become very frightening for your loved one and very difficult for the caregiver to handle. I know that while I was caring for my dad, hallucinations were the hardest and most heart wrenching facet I had to deal with.

It always amazed me how something so unreal could last in my father’s mind sometimes for days, and then meanwhile something that truly just happened would be washed away in a matter of minutes.

I will never forget the day when my dad started to get extremely upset around nine o’clock in the morning. “They’re breaking into the building next door! All the tools behind the building are being stolen!” Over and over Dad kept repeating this throughout the entire day. The thing is that the other building wasn’t even visible from the house, but he insisted that he saw at least five guys over there breaking in.

Finally, I walked him over there, across the field, four or five times in hopes that it would settle him down. At last, around 5:00 p.m., I called my sister and begged for her to drop everything she was doing and get over there. Upon her arrival she suggested that I should get away and take a break for a while. I responded that the only thing I wanted to do at that time was to get some sleep.

At this point throughout the campaign I considered myself to be a seasoned caregiver, but honestly, I couldn’t take it even one more minute of the mental madness that day!

If this should happen to your patient and he or she truly believes they are witnessing something, don’t turn it into a debate. Period! You might have to take a walk outside and circle the house. At this point you probably need some fresh air and some good ole dirt kicking. Whatever you do, don’t get into argument. It will only twist things further and you both will likely be headed for hours of extended torture.

Discuss the matter with the physician. There are medications that may help and if these hallucinations are scaring your loved one and building up high levels of anxiety, you too are going to need help as well.