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A senior man experiencing disorientation and confusion

What Causes Hallucinations in Elderly

Hallucinations are a common experience among the elderly population, but they can be alarming and unsettling.

If you or a loved one is experiencing hallucinations, it’s important to understand the potential causes, including schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Lewy body dementia, migraines, brain tumors, Charles Bonnet syndrome, or epilepsy.

If you or a loved one is experiencing hallucinations, it may be time to consider assisted living services. Choosing the right level of care can help manage symptoms and provide a safe and supportive environment for seniors.

What Are Hallucinations?

Hallucinations are sensory experiences that feel real but are not based on objective reality. They can manifest in any of the 5 senses, including seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, or feeling something that isn’t there.

Hallucinations can be vivid and seem completely real to the person experiencing them. They can also vary in intensity and frequency, depending on the underlying cause. For elderly individuals, hallucinations can be distressing and disorienting, especially if they cannot distinguish between what is real and what is not.

Common Causes of Hallucinations in Elderly

Hallucinations in the elderly population often manifest an underlying medical condition. Identifying the causes of hallucinations is crucial to developing an appropriate care plan, managing symptoms, and improving the affected individual’s quality of life. 


Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. Hallucinations, particularly auditory hallucinations, are a common symptom of schizophrenia.

People with schizophrenia may hear voices or other sounds that are not there, contributing to feelings of confusion and distress.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that primarily affects movement. However, it can also cause non-motor symptoms, including visual hallucinations.

These hallucinations may involve seeing people or animals that are not there or misinterpreting objects in the environment.

Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Forms of Dementia

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, especially Lewy body dementia, can cause hallucinations. As these conditions progress, they affect the brain and impair its normal functioning, leading to various symptoms, including hallucinations.

Visual hallucinations are a common symptom of Lewy body dementia, while Alzheimer’s patients may experience hallucinations involving any of the senses.


Migraines are severe headaches that can cause a range of neurological symptoms, including visual disturbances known as aura.

Some individuals may experience hallucinations during migraines, such as seeing flashing lights, zigzag lines, or blind spots.

Brain Tumor

A brain tumor can cause hallucinations if located in an area of the brain responsible for processing sensory information. The type of hallucination experienced will depend on the specific location of the tumor within the brain.

Charles Bonnet Syndrome

Charles Bonnet syndrome is a condition that causes visual hallucinations in people with significant vision loss.

The hallucinations range from simple geometric shapes to complex images of people, animals, or landscapes. This syndrome occurs as the brain tries to fill in the gaps of missing visual information, creating vivid, realistic hallucinations.


Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by recurrent seizures. Some forms of epilepsy can cause hallucinations, particularly those that affect the brain’s temporal lobe.

These hallucinations can involve any of the senses and may occur just before, during, or after a seizure.

A doctor examining a senior woman who is experiencing disorientation and confusionPrevention and Treatment

While there is no guaranteed way to prevent hallucinations in elderly individuals, there are methods to help manage them. The most effective treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the hallucinations.

If you or a loved one is experiencing hallucinations, seeking medical attention promptly to identify any underlying causes and develop a treatment plan is important.

  • Medications can be used to alleviate hallucinations caused by certain medical conditions. For example, antipsychotic medications may be prescribed to individuals with Parkinson’s disease dementia, while cholinesterase inhibitors may help reduce visual hallucinations in individuals with Lewy body dementia.
  • Therapy can also be beneficial for individuals experiencing hallucinations. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been shown to be effective in treating psychosis and hallucinations. This therapy focuses on identifying and challenging negative thought patterns and replacing them with more positive ones. Additionally, other therapies, such as art or music therapy, have been found to help reduce anxiety and depression associated with hallucinations.

Assisted Living Services for Seniors with Hallucinations

Hallucinations can be a challenging experience for anyone, but they can be especially alarming for the elderly population. If you or your loved one experiences hallucinations, it is essential to seek medical attention promptly.

At Sommerset Neighborhood Assisted Living & Memory Care, we offer evaluations to help determine the appropriate level of supportive services you need. Our community is designed to provide independence and dignity for residents while encouraging their involvement with family, friends, and neighbors.

We are a faith-based, not-for-profit community dedicated to enhancing the well-being and quality of life of our residents with competency, compassion, and ethical behavior.

Contact us today to schedule a tour and experience the comfort and safety of our community.

A senior man experiencing disorientation and confusion

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