Dementia and hallucinations

I saw a question on a favorite caregiving site about how to handle a loved one who claims to be seeing dead people.

If you are not familiar with the practice, don’t laugh, because people with dementia – especially the Lewy Body type, see strange things all the time. Once, my mother swore there were spiders or bugs all over the ceiling, and another time she recounted the conversation she had with her mother, who passed away in 1948.

She also erroneously claims that she just washed her hair, or took a shower, ate a huge meal, or walked uptown. So the issue is not whether or not what they say is real, it’s your reaction to what they say that is in question.

Some of the responses from Christians quoted the Bible, and said that often those near dying will see loved ones.  I’m not going to comment on that, although I hope it is true, but Mom’s nowhere near dying.  She’s always asking whether Daddy went to work, or if David’s home yet, or where Barbara is. I sometimes confuse her on purpose by asking if she means her Daddy or my Daddy, or if she meant Chris or Scott (my sons), who probably look like family members to her.  She says, “I don’t know,” and then I change the subject.  She is not bothered by this interaction, but if she was, I would tell her that she’s still half-asleep or daydreaming and that it was only her imagination.

If she’s wide awake, and depending on the situation, I gently say that the person has (to quote Joel Osteen), “…gone to be with the Lord.”  A few times, I’ve had to explain what that means in no uncertain terms, but when I tell her first that her mother would have to be 122 if she were alive, she realizes that wouldn’t be possible, and lets it go.

And when all else fails, I change the subject, or walk away for a moment.  I might say I’ve got to check something on the stove or in the laundry. A quick trip to the bathroom is always a good excuse.

But I also recognize that I can easily daydream about people too – people who have passed or been in my life, for better or worse.  I can see them now, with my eyes open, and for the most part, they don’t talk back.   Sometimes I watch a movie, or read a book, and the characters stay with me for days afterwards.  No one would think me mentally unsound, or recommend medication to ‘stem my hallucinations.’

Imagine if you were mentally stuck in High School, or had amnesia that blocked out a great portion of your life. (I watched “The Vow” last night with Channing Tatum about just such a situation.) Or consider that even if your vision and hearing were perfect, the information you receive through your senses doesn’t quite connect, and you perceive that the woman who just gave you breakfast is not the woman who just washed your face.

Now, for the sake of a balanced response, I must highlight that one respondent to this caregiving question suspected a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI).  I agree wholeheartedly that UTI’s can be the source of bizarre behavior in the elderly.  The average SAD (Standard American Diet) includes lots of grains/glutens, which break down into sugar. These sugars feed bacteria in the intestine  The recommended diet for diabetics and heart patients includes lots of whole grains, and I’ll bet most nursing homes include some in every single meal they serve.

My research has shown – and my experience with my mother has proven – that this shows up in the elderly as altered behavior. Whenever my mother starts acting “odd” I realize that it is due to the recent consumption of wheat or grains over a certain amount.  At 88 years of age, I cannot deny her everything that she loves; I just try to space it out so that she regards pizza, or a roll with butter, or a grilled cheese sandwich as a treat, not an expectation.

If I suspect that my mother is acting weird, I give her lots of water to flush the bacteria out, or a half-and-half mixture of cranberry juice and water.  As she won’t take anything that even resembles medicine, I cannot give her D-Mannose (which is not a drug, but a supplement made from berries, apples and peaches), or baking soda to normalize her pH, but we seem to do just fine on the ‘accelerated water plan’ along with the removal of any grains and sugar other than the few glasses of diluted juice.  Don’t be tricked into thinking that gluten-free is entirely OK, either.  It isn’t.

The overarching thing to remember is that with a parent who has dementia, YOU are the parent.  YOU have to guide the situation based on the information you have. Whether your decision in caregiving is based on a medical model or not, you can make informed choices.

Thank goodness for the internet; it shows me daily that people are reclaiming their health, taking charge of their own lives, using food to fuel their recoveries, and learning to live more naturally.



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