When delusions are a symptom of a loved one’s dementia can be as disconcerting for a caregiver or loved as they can be disorienting for the person living with dementia. A dementia delusion is a false belief that a person with dementia has. The belief can be about anything but often involves a misinterpretation of reality. For example, a person with dementia may believe a family member is trying to harm them or that their house is haunted.
According to a recent study, U.S. healthcare providers estimate that 44% of their patients with dementia have hallucinations and/or delusions. So it’s essential to be informed on how to support a senior through them if delusions arise.
Persons with dementia conditions often struggle with frightening delusions. These delusions typically include four common scenarios:
Seniors with dementia often startle easily. As such, they might assume anyone approaching them is trying to attack or hurt them.
• First, back away and give them some space.
• If the senior is sitting, try to move to their eye level, so you don’t seem like you’re towering over them.
• Using a calm voice, reassure them. Try phrases such as, “I think I’ve startled you. I didn’t mean to surprise you.”
Seeing a loved one’s memory of their family fade away is heartbreaking. This situation is compounded when the person insists that you’re a stranger or that you leave.
If this happens to you, don’t attempt to reassure the senior of your identity. Instead, stay calm and mention yourself in the third person. For example, you might say, “I just spoke to [your name], and they asked me to sit with you until they get home.”
You might also simply acknowledge them, then leave the room for a minute. Stepping away can help diffuse the situation, and they might respond more positively when you return.
The confusion and memory loss familiar with dementia often creates paranoia in seniors. Additionally, a person’s eyesight might fail, confusing shadows or large objects with people lurking in corners.
You might also tell them you’re there to keep them safe. For example, close curtains and blinds and turn on interior lights, to reduce shadows and help them see more clearly. You can also offer to check the locks and set the alarm.
Seniors with dementia often see bugs crawling around the house and over their food. Dry, itchy skin can make them think bugs are crawling on them!
If they complain of bugs on their skin, offer them a bottle of lotion and tell them it’s a bug-repellant. Next, ask them what they want you to do about the bugs. Then, suggest vacuuming or sweeping the floor.
Tips for Handling Delusions
• Don’t argue with the person about the delusion.
• Try to find out why the person believes in the delusion
• Let them know that you understand that they believe in the delusion
• Stay calm and reassuring throughout
Clinicians suggest that non-medical interventions can be the best way to handle delusions. This includes assessing the situation. Is the delusion upsetting or dangerous? How are they reacting? Sometimes, a delusion can be ignored if it’s not upsetting or harmful to the person.
If the delusion cannot be ignored, the first step is always offering reassurance to the individual with words such as, “I’m here for you” and “This must be frightening.” Additional tips to try may include distraction by using a favorite activity or moving to another room.
Finally, you must inform the senior’s doctor. Sometimes, medications can be helpful when all other strategies have been exhausted. In addition, the physician should be consulted when health conditions such as a bladder infection are suspected to be the root cause of the delusions.
For more tips on managing dementia delusions, please view this resource from the Alzheimer’s Association. For more information about managing the care of a senior with dementia, don’t hesitate to contact Oasis Senior Advisors. Give us a call (914.356.1901 – 475.619.4123) or fill out a request form on our website.