Dementia Causes Hallucinations (And So Do Other Things)

I accidentally convinced a woman she has dementia.

Let me tell you more.

She’s perhaps in her 70’s. Her husband (and 7 other family members) have passed away in the last couple years.

She sleeps in the same bedroom where her husband died. He fell between the bed and dresser and never got up. Since his death, she’s had some hallucinations at night.

While some are unpleasant, she had one where a really good-looking shirtless guy showed up on a horse by her bed. She says he can come back anytime.

She went to a doctor who gave her a pill that (for the most part) stopped the hallucinations.

Before I knew this story, she asked me if dementia causes hallucinations. I said yes and gave a bit more info….my short TedTalk on dementia and hallucinations.

She asked this question because she wanted to know if she has dementia. I didn’t realize this was the intention of the question. I went on and on about how hallucinations are not uncommon for people living with dementia. I was not helpful.

After I finished talking, I got the rest of the story.

I realized that I left something out.

People living with dementia have hallucinations. People without dementia also have hallucinations.

Dementia is not the only cause of hallucinations. Far from it.

Upon learning more, I back up. I am not particularly worried that she has dementia.

“I don’t think it’s dementia. I think it’s grief,” I told her.

Of course, I am not a medical doctor and cannot diagnose anything. I suggest she keep in touch with her physician.

She told me at night she turns on her closet light and leaves the door slightly cracked. If it’s not totally dark, she told me, it doesn’t happen.

She also told me that if she has dementia, she believes everything happens for a reason and knows it will be okay.

I make a note to myself.

Get more information before you answer a broad question.

Your answer may be misleading if you don’t understand the context.

Do people with dementia have anxiety?

Do people with dementia hear voices?

Do people with dementia get easily frustrated?

Do people with dementia struggle with social skills?

Do people with dementia dislike foods they used to like?

The answers to all of these questions is….sometimes.

If I were to ask the same set of questions about people in general, the answer would still be….sometimes.

Things other than dementia causes anxiety, irritability, social skill deficits, and changes in food tastes.

I worry that sometimes when I say something is a symptom of dementia people assume it is only a symptom of dementia and cannot exist without dementia.

Lack of balance is a symptom of dementia. It is also a symptom of vertigo. Or alcoholism.

Fatigue is a symptom of dementia. It is also a symptom of cancer, COVID, a medication interaction, and heat exhaustion.

Memory loss is a symptom of dementia. It is also a symptom of stress, sleep deprivation, and a vitamin deficiency.

I encourage people to talk to their physician about health issues. I am not a medical doctor, and I hesitate when asked to make speculations on diagnoses.

But it’s important to stress to people that having one symptom that is commonly associated with dementia could mean you have dementia. Or it could mean something else.