Hallucinations can affect all of your senses. A hallucination is when you see, hear, feel, smell or even taste something that isn't actually real.
There are different types of hallucinations:
Auditory hallucinations – hearing things
You may hear sounds or voices that other people cannot hear, such as music or people talking. Or, you could be convinced you’ve heard a familiar sound, such as a door opening or a doorbell ringing.
Tactile hallucinations – sensing things
This is when you think that someone or something is touching you or the space around you, even when nobody is.
Hallucinating smells and tastes
You may be able to smell something, such as smoke, or taste something you haven’t eaten.
Visual hallucinations – seeing things
You may have hallucinations where you see people, particularly relatives, animals or even insects, that aren’t there.
If you've had a visual hallucination, it is likely that you will be able to describe what you have seen in detail. The images may go away quickly or be remembered for a long time.
These are a different type of hallucination. If you experience an illusion, you will see real things in a different way from how they look in real life. For example, patterns on carpets and wallpapers may seem like they are moving, or a coat hanging on a door may look like a person.
Hallucinations can be quite frightening, especially when you don’t realise that the things you see, hear or feel aren’t actually real. Some people will be aware that they are hallucinating, and some won’t be.
How hallucinations affect you will depend on how bad your experiences are and how other people around you respond.
Hallucinations may also affect you more if you have dementia or memory problems.
Some people find their own ways of dealing with their hallucinations, but if you are finding it hard to cope, there are things that can be done to help (see the section What can you do to manage hallucinations and delusions).
Older people are more likely to experience urinary or chest infections, which can cause hallucinations. If you are an older person with Parkinson's it is important to be aware of this and get medical advice as soon as possible.
What are delusions?
Delusions are strongly held thoughts or beliefs that aren’t based on evidence. This can be one of the most difficult experiences to come to terms with, especially if you have delusions about your carer or someone close to you.
Delusions can include:
You may believe you’re the victim of a conspiracy, or that someone is trying to hurt or harm you.
You may feel jealous of someone you love or a close friend.
You may think you've got special powers. This could make you act in an unusual or dangerous way.
Hallucinations and delusions can affect both younger and older people in the earlier stages of the condition, but are more common in people who've had Parkinson’s for a long time.
There are many reasons why someone with Parkinson's may experience hallucinations and delusions.
Hallucinations and delusions may be a side effect of Parkinson’s medication. But not everyone who takes Parkinson’s drugs will experience them. It depends on the exact type of medication, the dose and the person taking them. Sometimes, the higher the dose of medication, the more chance there is of experiencing hallucinations.
In particular, some people with Parkinson's can experience hallucinations or delusions when they have an 'off' period. This happens when your medication wears off before your next dose.
If you think your hallucinations are linked to your Parkinson's medication, speak to your GP, specialist or Parkinson's nurse as soon as possible about adjusting your dose or changing medication. Your pharmacist will also be able to help you.
Memory problems and dementia
Research shows that hallucinations and delusions often happen when someone with Parkinson’s also has problems with memory, thinking problems or dementia.
If you experience hallucinations at an early stage of Parkinson’s, it could be a sign of another medical condition, such as dementia with Lewy bodies.
Eye problems are more common for people with Parkinson's than those without the condition. Issues with eyesight can often be linked to hallucinations and delusions so speak to your specialist or Parkinson's nurse to find out about the best way to manage any eye problems.
Bad lighting can also be a cause of hallucinations and delusions so make sure you can see clearly in your home to rule out this issue.
If you experience hallucinations or delusions, you should see your specialist or Parkinson's nurse as soon you can to find out how to reduce them and the distress they often cause.
You should also do this if you've had hallucinations or delusions before, and they are getting worse.
Simple blood or urine tests may help to make sure that another problem, such as a fever resulting from a chest or bladder infection, is not causing your hallucinations or delusions.
Managing your symptoms at home
There are also some simple steps you can take to manage and reduce your hallucinations or delusions:
- Try to recognise that hallucinations are a common symptom of Parkinson's, and that they can be managed. Try challenging and reframing any negative thoughts in a helpful way. For example, replacing thoughts like ‘I'm going mad’ with ‘this is normal, and I'm going to be okay’.
- Check the time your symptoms begin to occur, and consider moving your medication time backwards or forwards slightly, if you find it is impacting on your hallucinations or delusions. For example, if your hallucinations happen when your medication is wearing off, you might want to consider taking it slightly earlier.
- Focus your attention on a stimulating activity, such as reading or watching television, to distract yourself from the hallucination or delusion.
- Don't react to any visions or sounds - instead, block them out and try distracting yourself (see above)
- Try to practise good sleeping habits, as tiredness can bring on or increase hallucinations. Avoid caffeine and other stimulants (eg nicotine and alcohol) too close to bedtime, and engage in a relaxing activity before going to bed (eg reading or listening to music). Find out more: see our information on sleep and night-time problems.
- Consider adjusting your environment to reduce any triggering sights and objects. For example, improving the lighting to reduce shadows, and removing or covering objects which could cause hallucinations.
- Eating regular, nutritionally balanced meals can help to reduce the symptoms of hallucinations and delusions, as can frequent exercise.
Talk to your family
It can help them to understand how you are feeling and become more patient so they can help you to manage your hallucinations or delusions. If people around you can understand and support you, this can make you feel less worried.
If you have carers at home, help them to understand the following:
- What happens when you experience hallucinations or delusions?
- When are they most likely to happen?
- What makes them happen less often and less strongly?
- How can your carers or family members make things easier for you?
Ask about medication
Because the hallucinations and delusions may be caused by Parkinson’s medication, your GP, specialist or Parkinson’s nurse may suggest some changes to your Parkinson’s treatment. They will aim to find the right medication for managing both your hallucinations or delusions and your other Parkinson’s symptoms.
Your current dose may be reduced, or a certain type of medication may be gradually stopped to help improve these symptoms. If this doesn’t work, then your specialist may suggest that you take medication that can stop hallucinations or delusions from happening.
Research shows that experiencing hallucinations or delusions can have a big effect on the quality of life of people with Parkinson’s. It can also be very upsetting to carers and can put stress on relationships.
Sometimes carers and family members can find it hard to cope with hallucinations and delusions. So it is very important to get medical treatment for hallucinations and delusions, or to learn ways of dealing with them when they happen.
Tips for family, friends and carers
If you are a family member, friend or carer of someone experiencing hallucinations and delusions, it's important to know how to manage them.
It's also important to take time for yourself.
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Last updated August 2019. We review all our information within 3 years. If you'd like to find out more about how we put our information together, including references and the sources of evidence we use, please contact us at [email protected]