What Causes Hallucinations in the Elderly?

What Causes Hallucinations in the Elderly?
Hallucinations involve experiencing sensations or seeing, hearing, smelling, or feeling things that are not actually real.


Hallucinations involve experiencing sensations or seeing, hearing, smelling, or feeling things that are not actually real. When someone is having a hallucination, they may see, hear, or feel something that isn't really there, like hearing voices or seeing figures that aren't actually there. While hallucinations can happen to people of any age, it is more common in the elderly population.

This guide will provide an overview of what causes hallucinations in the elderly, including physical and mental causes, as well as ways to address them and support a loved one who is experiencing hallucinations.

What are Hallucinations?

Hallucinations are a sensory experience where people see, hear, smell, touch or taste things that are not real. It is important to note that hallucinations are not always caused by mental health conditions and can also be caused by physical illnesses as well. Although hallucinations can be frightening, it is important to remember that they are not always indicative of an underlying pathology.

Hallucinations are a common symptom in the elderly population, and they vary in intensity and frequency from person to person. However, it is important to understand what causes hallucinations so that any underlying medical conditions can be properly addressed.

Introducing Target Search Terms

Hallucinations are sensory experiences that appear as real, even though they are not. In the elderly population, hallucinations can come from physical causes or mental causes. It is important to understand what causes hallucinations in the elderly and how to address them.

Understanding the target search terms associated with what causes hallucinations in the elderly can help to provide insight on the topic. These terms include:

  • Declining physical health
  • Vision/hearing/sensation impairments
  • Dementia
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Depression
  • Stress and Anxiety Disorders
  • Medications
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Support groups

These terms will be discussed throughout the guide in an effort to understand what causes hallucinations in the elderly and ways to address them.

What Causes Hallucinations in the Elderly?

Hallucinations are a very common issue for the elderly. In most cases, hallucinations are caused by physical and mental health changes that are a natural part of aging. There is still a lot that is not known about the cause of hallucinations among the elderly, but there are several possible causes that are suspected.

Some of the most common causes of hallucinations in the elderly include physical health issues, such as deteriorating vision and hearing, or a decline in overall physical health. Mental health issues, such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, depression, stress, and anxiety disorders can also be contributing factors.

Physical Causes of Hallucinations in the Elderly

Physical causes of hallucinations in the elderly are usually related to declining physical health and impairments of senses such as vision, hearing or sensation. When faced with serious illnesses, older adults can experience hallucinations due to an increase in medications, pain, fatigue or lack of nutrition.

Some physical ailments that may cause hallucinations in the elderly are:

  • Chronic illnesses such as heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, cancer
  • Alcoholism or extreme use of recreational drugs
  • Dehydration
  • Low blood pressure, or other physiological changes
  • Brain lesions or tumors
  • Malnutrition or Vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Impaired vision or hearing
  • Parkinson’s Disease

Mental Causes

Mental health conditions can be a major contributor to hallucinations in the elderly. When experiencing hallucinations, it is important to get an accurate diagnosis from a medical professional to ensure appropriate treatment. Common mental causes for hallucinations in the elderly include dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, depression, and stress and anxiety disorders.

Dementia is a brain disorder that affects an individual’s ability to think, remember, and make decisions. Hallucinations are a common symptom among those with dementia. These symptoms may appear as a side effect of medication, or due to environmental triggers.

Alzheimer's Disease is the most common form of dementia, causing problems with memory, thinking, and behavior. Those with Alzheimer’s Disease may experience hallucinations that are triggered by changes in routine or environment.

Depression is a mental illness characterized by feelings of sadness, loss of interest, and changes in behavior. Depression can lead to hallucinations if left untreated. People are more likely to experience hallucinations if they are already prone to depression.

Stress and anxiety disorders can also lead to hallucinations in the elderly. Experiencing intense levels of stress or extended periods of anxiety can trigger episodes of hallucinations that should be addressed by a healthcare provider.

Declining Physical Health

As we age, our physical health can start to decline. This can have a direct impact on the occurrence of hallucinations in the elderly. Conditions such as cardiovascular disease, arthritis and diabetes can all lead to declines in physical well-being.

Physical ailments can cause hallucinations due to the fact that they reduce body functions and can make us feel weak or ill. This can in turn lead to confusion, disorientation, and a feeling of having lost control. These can all trigger hallucinatory experiences.

It is important for elderly people to be aware of their physical health and to monitor any changes that occur. By being alert to changes in physical health, they can make sure that any necessary medical treatments are sought in order to keep their body functioning optimally.

Vision/Hearing/Sensation Impairments

Vision, hearing, and sensation impairments can all contribute to an increased risk for hallucinations in the elderly. When these senses become impaired due to age-related changes or disease, the brain is forced to fill in the gaps with its own interpretation of what it sees or hears. This interpretation can lead to hallucinations.

Examples of vision problems that can contribute to hallucinations include blurred vision, double vision, night blindness, cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and corneal damage. Impairments in hearing or sensation, such as tinnitus, poor hearing, and neuropathy, can also contribute to the risk of experiencing hallucinations.


Dementia is a term used to describe a decline in cognitive abilities, such as memory, thinking and language, that interfere with daily life. It is more common in older people and it is estimated that one third of people over the age of 85 will develop dementia.

There are many types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease, vascular dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and frontotemporal dementia. Each type of dementia affects individuals differently and can manifest in different ways.

Individuals living with dementia may experience different symptoms, depending on the type of dementia. These symptoms may include: confusion, difficulty communicating, changes in behavior, memory problems, difficulty reasoning, mood swings, and hallucinations.

Hallucinations are a common symptom of dementia and can range from seeing, hearing, feeling or smelling something that is not there. Hallucinations are caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain which causes disordered thinking, and can make it difficult for an individual to distinguish reality from their imagination.

Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's disease is a type of dementia, a degenerative brain disorder that affects a person's memory, thinking, and behavior. It is the most common cause of dementia in older adults and typically begins to affect people after the age of 65. People with Alzheimer's disease may experience a range of different symptoms, including confusion, memory loss, difficulty with communication, difficulty performing daily activities, and hallucinations.

Hallucinations are usually visual but can also be experienced as auditory. They may involve seeing things that are not there or hearing voices that do not exist. Hallucinations can be both frightening and disorienting for those affected by them.

There is no cure for Alzheimer's disease, and it typically progresses over time. Treatment typically involves medications to help manage symptoms and reduce the severity of hallucinations. There are also various therapies available to help manage the disease, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and relaxation techniques.


Depression is a serious mood disorder that can bring about intense feelings of sadness, emptiness, and hopelessness. Depression can interfere with an individual's ability to function in everyday life. It can also cause physical symptoms, such as fatigue, headaches, and aches and pains.

For the elderly, depression may manifest itself as a prolonged feeling of loneliness, irritability, or helplessness. It can also cause them to feel a loss of energy and have difficulty concentrating or making decisions. If left untreated, depression can lead to other mental and physical health issues.

If you or an elderly loved one is struggling with symptoms of depression, it’s important to seek help from a qualified healthcare provider. They can develop a treatment plan that is tailored to your individual needs and may involve a combination of medications and psychotherapy.

Stress and Anxiety Disorders

Stress and anxiety disorders can be serious mental illnesses that can lead to hallucinations in the elderly. Stress and anxiety can cause a person to experience a “hyper-arousal” of their senses, leading them to believe they see, feel, or hear things that are not actually there. People with these disorders may also have difficulty concentrating and can become easily overwhelmed or confused.

The presence of an anxiety disorder can make it difficult for an elderly individual to handle daily tasks or interact socially, which can in turn increase their overall stress levels. In some cases, even simple lifestyle changes can help alleviate some of these stressors. A focus on finding activities with friends or family and getting more physical exercise can help in reducing stress and anxiety.

In severe cases, however, talking to a qualified mental health specialist is necessary to properly diagnose and treat the underlying condition. With the proper treatment, it is possible to reduce the frequency and intensity of the hallucinations.

Addressing Hallucinations

Hallucinations can be both frightening and disruptive for those suffering from them, as well as for their loved ones. While hallucinations can’t always be prevented, there are some measures that can be taken to reduce their occurrence and help manage them.

Ways to reduce the occurrence of hallucinations:

  • Getting adequate sleep
  • Maintaining healthy routines
  • Avoiding drugs and alcohol
  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating healthy food

Treating any underlying causes is important to managing hallucinations in the elderly.

Treating underlying causes:

  • Identifying and managing mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, or dementia
  • Correcting vision, hearing, or sensation impairments
  • Managing chronic physical conditions and pain

If necessary, medical intervention may be recommended to help address certain types of hallucinations.

Ways to Reduce the Occurrence of Hallucinations

There are some steps that can be taken to help reduce the occurence of hallucinations in the elderly.

  • Avoiding situations and environments that may trigger mental stress or confusion.
  • Maintaining a healthy diet.
  • Limiting the use of alcohol and drugs.
  • Staying active with exercise and other activities.
  • Managing medications properly, as certain drugs may induce hallucinations.
  • Encouraging communication between the elder and their doctor on how to manage any hallucinations that they may be experiencing.

Treating Underlying Causes

In cases of hallucinations caused by physical or mental conditions, the best way to address them is to treat the underlying cause. This may involve lifestyle changes such as exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet, or taking medication to help manage the condition.

For those with vision or hearing impairments, special medical devices may help improve their perception of their environment, which may reduce the occurrence of hallucinations. In cases of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, medications and therapies can help improve mental functioning and reduce the frequency of hallucinations.

For those suffering from depression, stress, and anxiety disorders, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and relaxation techniques can be useful in reducing the mental distress that can contribute to hallucinations. In addition, getting support from family and friends can help reduce the stress and anxiety associated with hallucinations.

Medical Intervention

When a person is suffering from hallucinations, it can be difficult to know what to do. In many cases, medical intervention is the best option and there are several types of treatment available.

Medication is one of the most common treatments for hallucinations. Doctors may prescribe antipsychotics which can help reduce the frequency and severity of hallucinations. Antidepressants are also used in some cases to aid people who are experiencing depression as a result of their condition.

For those seeking a more natural approach to treating hallucinations, there are several over-the-counter remedies available. Herbal supplements, such as valerian root, and essential oils are often used to reduce anxiety and help relax the person experiencing the hallucinations.


Sometimes medications can be used to help reduce the occurrences of hallucinations in the elderly. This is typically prescribed in cases where there is a specific underlying cause that needs to be addressed. Doctors may recommend certain types of medications depending on what is causing the hallucinations.

Antipsychotics are commonly prescribed and can be effective in reducing the intensity and frequency of hallucinations in some cases. In other instances, antidepressants and drugs usually used for treating anxiety and dementia may be recommended.

When it comes to medications, it is important to make sure all potential risks and side effects are discussed with the doctor before taking any new medications. This will help ensure that any prescribed treatments are both beneficial and safe.

Over the Counter Remedies

For mild hallucinations, over-the-counter remedies may offer some relief. Herbal supplements like valerian root, chamomile, and ginkgo biloba have all been linked to helping with hallucinations in some cases. It is important to consult a physician before taking any medication or supplement, however, as some of these can interact with other medications.

Acetyl-L-carnitine, a dietary supplement, has been studied and could provide some benefits for people suffering from hallucinations. This supplement helps regulate neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which are both involved in controlling mood and emotions. However, larger studies are needed to determine its effectiveness in treating hallucinations.

Supplements that contain omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil, have also been studied in relation to hallucinations. While research is still limited, studies have suggested that omega-3s could help reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and paranoia, which can all be related to hallucinations.

Other Therapies

Hallucinations in the elderly can be difficult to deal with and effectively manage. Therefore, a variety of other therapies may be employed to help manage the hallucinations and reduce their impact. These therapies can help address underlying causes as well as help an elderly person cope with the hallucinations.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that focuses on helping a person identify and adjust unhealthy thinking patterns and behaviors. This form of therapy has been proven to be helpful in reducing the frequency and intensity of hallucinations. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing or guided imagery can also help.

Exploring other activities such as art therapy or music therapy may also be beneficial. These activities can be calming and provide comfort and distraction from the hallucinations. Taking part in physical activities like yoga or tai chi can also help manage the hallucinations.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based therapy used to help people with a variety of conditions, including hallucinations in the elderly. It is an active form of psychotherapy that focuses on how thoughts, behaviors, and emotions interact together. The goal of CBT is to help people identify and change their thought patterns and behavior which can reduce or eliminate the occurrence of hallucinations in the elderly.

CBT can be used to help elderly individuals become more aware of how their negative thoughts and beliefs can lead to hallucinations. With assistance, this can help them manage their hallucinations in a more positive way. CBT also focuses on different coping strategies, teaching them ways to effectively deal with their experiences in order to reduce their distress. This type of therapy can give elderly individuals the skills they need to move forward and reduce the occurrence of hallucinations.

Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques can help reduce stress and anxiety which may be contributing to hallucinations in the elderly. Finding a way to relax and wind down can reduce the occurrence of these episodes.

Practicing relaxation techniques can also help reduce fatigue, improve mood, and increase overall quality of life. There are several methods to choose from, such as yoga, tai chi, or meditation.

Yoga incorporates breathing exercises and physical postures. It's an excellent way to relieve stress, reduce muscle tension, and provide a sense of mental clarity. Tai chi is a slow form of exercise that helps with physical balance, coordination, and strength. Meditation is a practice of focusing and calming one’s thoughts and breathing.

It’s important to find out which relaxation technique works best for you. It may take some trial and error, but with patience you will find a practice that helps manage your stress.

Coping Strategies

When dealing with hallucinations, it is important to develop coping strategies to reduce fear and find ways to adapt daily activities. One of the most effective ways to cope with hallucinations is through education. By understanding what is happening and why, it can help to reduce fear and anxiety surrounding the experience.

It's also important to have support from family and friends. Having someone to talk to about what you're experiencing can help to reduce feelings of isolation or embarrassment.

Other coping strategies include:

  • Relaxation techniques such as yoga, tai chi, or meditation.
  • Keeping a journal to record your thoughts and feelings.
  • Avoiding activities that may trigger hallucinations.
  • Limiting alcohol and caffeine use.
  • Finding activities and hobbies that are enjoyable and distracting.
  • Sticking to a regular sleep schedule.

Dealing With Hallucination Fear

For those with hallucinations, fear and anxiety over them can be a common experience. It is important to understand the root causes of this fear and find effective ways of coping with it.

It is understandable to feel scared when you have an unexpected experience that occurs as a result of a medical condition. Fear is a natural response and can serve as a helpful barometer to remind you to take care of yourself.

One way to start coping with hallucination fear is to talk to someone about it. This may be a friend, family member, or health care provider. Talking about your experience can help put things into perspective and provide reassurance.

Another helpful strategy is to practice relaxation techniques. Taking deep breaths and focusing on slowing down your thoughts and body can help to reduce stress levels and lessen the intensity of hallucinations.

Finally, if your fear and anxiety become overwhelming, reach out for professional help. A therapist or counselor can provide the guidance and tools you need to manage your symptoms.

Adapting Daily Habits

Hallucinations can be overwhelming and may disrupt daily routines. One strategy to help manage such occurrences is to adjust daily habits. These adjustments may include:

  • Reducing sources of overstimulation, like loud noises and bright lights.
  • Relaxing with activities, like breathing exercises, yoga, mindfulness meditation, or other relaxation techniques.
  • Creating a safe and comfortable environment, such as turning the lights down, avoiding watching TV shows or movies with disturbing visuals, and ensuring that doors are locked.
  • Staying on an established routine for sleeping and eating, as this helps keep the body and mind in a regular rhythm.

These strategies are not intended to replace medical advice, however they may help reduce feelings of distress and fear resulting from hallucinations. Supportive friends and family can also help by providing understanding and reassurance when needed.

Support Groups

Support groups offer a great way to meet people who are also dealing with similar experiences. Having a safe space to talk about fears, concerns and successes can be key in managing hallucinations. A support group may even have access to resources to further explore treatment options.

These groups usually meet on a regular basis with a leader to provide structure and direction. They can also act as an opportunity to meet with medical professionals to answer questions or discuss the latest treatments. Knowing there is a support system can be reassuring and provide a sense of community and solidarity.

For those dealing with hallucinations in the elderly, support groups can be especially helpful. Many seniors may feel isolated due to age-related physical or mental restrictions that make it difficult to get out and meet people. Finding a local support group can be especially beneficial in providing camaraderie and comfort.

Helping a Loved One

If your loved one is experiencing hallucinations, it can be immensely difficult for family and friends to cope. It is important to acknowledge the difficulty and discuss how you can both help manage the situation.

It is best to approach the conversation in a respectful and supportive way, and to allow your loved one to share their feelings and experiences with you. Show that you are open to understanding their experience and empathize with them. Let your loved one know that you care and that you are there to support them.

There are several ways to provide emotional and physical support. This includes:

  • Being patient and understanding
  • Creating a safe and comforting environment
  • Having a calm and reassuring manner
  • Talking to your loved one about their hallucinations
  • Encouraging healthy lifestyle habits such as staying hydrated and getting enough sleep
  • Providing practical and realistic advice for coping with their hallucinations
  • Encouraging them to seek professional help, if needed

Remember to take care of yourself too. Supporting a loved one who is dealing with hallucinations can be challenging and overwhelming. Make sure that you take regular breaks and practice self-care.


Hallucinations can be a scary and confusing experience for those affected, especially the elderly. While they can be a sign of underlying medical conditions, there are ways to reduce their occurrence and cope with them. With proper medical intervention and support, it is possible to manage hallucinations and the associated fear that comes with them.

It is important to remember that you are not alone in dealing with hallucinations. There is help available, from medical professionals, support groups, and family and friends. With the right assistance, managing hallucinations can become easier and more manageable.