Below is a video clip from Teepa Snow, explaining how the type of hallucination dictates our response. This video clip is the basis of this article.
Hallucinations: Visual, Verbal, Tactile
Hallucinations are common for older adults living with dementia, especially Lewy Bodies. As carepartners, it is our responsibility to address the vision and make the care recipient more comfortable. In order to do this, we need to understand how the person feels about their hallucination.
- Does the person living with dementia think they are in their childhood home with their favorite dog?
- Does the person living with dementia believe other residents are hiding in their bathroom?
- Is someone stealing something from the client’s room?
- Is a traumatic childhood experience resurfacing?
Our first task is to answer the following question: Does the hallucination scare our client?
If the hallucination is not scary, ask the person how they feel about the image. Go over to the area with the older adult and look where they gaze. Ask questions. Listen to their responses and formulate new questions based on those answers. Your goal is to get as many details as possible about the hallucination.
As you delve deeper, the original hallucination will disappear. Eventually their brain will not be able to match their own verbal responses to the image “seen” by their visual sensory organs.
This is your opportunity to switch the topic. Engage them in a new activity and move out of the original environment. Do not mention anything that allows them to circuit back to the hallucination.
If the client is visibly scared by the hallucination, our approach needs to be different.
We should not ask them for more information about the image! Instead, we need to offer them more immediate sensory input.
Those living with dementia have a heightened sensation in the palm of their hands. They also loose the “skill” capacity in some fingers as all fingers become used for “strength”. By using the hand-under-hand technique, you protect the care recipient and yourself, while providing reassurance. You are able to guide their next action by retaining a grasp.
When faced with scary hallucinations, you can apply immediate and repeated pressure to their palms by pumping your palm against theirs. This sensation feels good and will help to redirect their attention.
You will want to be on the person’s preferred side. This is also known as their dominant side or the side in which they prefer to write. This is important because it allows you to draw their view more easily. The client also pays more attention to data and sound on their dominant side.
Simultaneously, you should show that you are worried! Ensure your face and words match. Tell and show them how worried you are about the hallucination.
Follow up with an action plan. Now that you understand, how will you help? What will you do to get the object to go away? Where will the client go to be safe? Describe your next few action steps to the care recipient. Continue to use the hand-under-hand approach, pump their palm, and continue to look and sound concerned.
Hallucinations are not preventable for those living with Lewy Bodies dementia. However, we can work to minimize their occurrences in other forms of dementia. The typical triggers for hallucinations are an emotional experience from that day or week that causes the client to time travel, emotional distress, infection, and dehydration. A hallucination may be a sign that something else is wrong physiologically with the client.