Blog Hero

What Causes Hallucinations in the Elderly

Schedule a Tour
A senior woman with short gray hair holding a cane looking directly and smiling.

As we age, we are more susceptible to various health conditions, ranging from physical to cognitive abilities, including hallucinations. While hallucinations can affect people of any age, they are common in older adults. 

Hallucinations are perceptual experiences that occur without any external stimuli. Some causes can include Alzheimer’s or dementia, Charles Bonnet Syndrome, side effects from medication, dehydration, and delirium. 

Caring for an elderly loved one who experiences hallucinations can be challenging. Comprehensive memory care in senior living communities can provide personalized support for loved ones with specific challenges. 

Let’s explore the various causes of hallucinations affecting the elderly and how to manage them.

What Are Hallucinations?

Hallucinations are sensory experiences that occur without any external stimulus. In other words, a person may see, hear, feel, or smell something that is not actually there. They can be brief or prolonged and range from subtle to vivid and intense. 

Symptoms associated with hallucinations can include the following:

  • Talking when there’s no one there
  • Seeing people, things, or animals that aren’t there
  • Withdrawal
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty expressing thoughts and speaking
  • Delusions
  • Memory lapses and confusion
  • Poor judgment
  • Irritability and anxiety
  • A drastic change in mood and behavior

Types of Hallucinations

Hallucinations can occur in any of the senses and affect vision, smell, taste, hearing, or touch, including bodily sensations. But the most common types are visual and auditory hallucinations. Here are the different types of hallucinations:

  • Visual hallucinations are seeing things that aren’t there. They can be objects, visual patterns, people, or lights.
  • Olfactory hallucinations can include smelling an unpleasant odor or the feeling that your body smells a certain way when it doesn’t.
  • Gustatory hallucinations involve your sense of taste, such as something strange or unpleasant.
  • Auditory hallucinations involve hearing voices in an angry, neutral, or warm voice or hearing noises.
  • Tactile hallucinations involve touch or movement in your body. Examples can include feeling bugs crawling on your skin or imagining someone’s hands on your body.

Causes of Hallucinations in the Elderly

Hallucinations can occur at any age, but several causes tend to affect the elderly.

Alzheimer’s or Dementia

Changes in the brain that occur in Alzheimer’s disease or dementia can cause hallucinations. A medical evaluation can rule out other causes. 

Charles Bonnet Syndrome

This condition can lead to visual hallucinations, especially in elderly persons with severe or partial blindness.

Medication Side Effects

Drugs can have side effects related to hallucinations, such as medication that treats hypertension and Parkinson’s disease. Some antibiotics can also lead to someone having hallucinations.


A significant percentage of the elderly can experience hallucinations when they lose their spouse.


Hallucinations that result from delirium can be experienced together with urinary tract infections or after surgery.


Illnesses such as kidney failure, liver failure, and even brain cancer can cause hallucinations. 


Dehydration is common among the elderly. Without adequate water, brain malfunctioning can cause hallucinations and lethargy.

Hearing & Vision Loss

Hearing and vision loss in the elderly can increase your risk of hallucinations. These conditions can include otosclerosis and glaucoma

Sleep deprivation

Inadequate sleep can lead to hallucinations. It’s possible to have hallucinations right before falling asleep. 

A senior woman with a female caregiver in a senior living community.

Managing Hallucinations in the Elderly

If an elderly loved one is experiencing hallucinations, it’s essential to speak with a healthcare professional to determine the underlying cause. Once they identify the cause of the hallucinations, there are steps you can take to manage the hallucinations.

If they result from a medical condition, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, or medication, treatment may include adjusting medication, additional treatment, or switching to a different medication. If the cause is sensory impairment, treatment may include hearing aids or glasses.

In addition to medical interventions, lifestyle changes can help manage hallucinations. Encouraging a healthy sleep routine, reducing stress and anxiety, and engaging in social activities can all help reduce the frequency and severity of hallucinations.

Support for the Elderly at Providence Place

Hallucinations can be a frightening experience for seniors, and therefore it is imperative to understand the underlying causes to manage them effectively.

With proper management, older adults can reduce the frequency and severity of their hallucinations and improve their overall quality of life. 

Contact Providence Place to learn how we can help and support elderly individuals to live more comfortable and fulfilling lives.


Written by Lifespark

More Articles By Lifespark
instagram facebook facebook2 pinterest twitter google-plus google linkedin2 yelp youtube phone location calendar share2 link star-full star star-half chevron-right chevron-left chevron-down chevron-up envelope fax