WHEN THE ELDERLY HAVE HALLUCINATIONS AND SEE BUGS – IT CAN BE DELIRIUM

One of the signs and symptoms of delirium can be hallucinating. Hallucinating does not mean that you have dementia but most likely a form of delirium.

Signs of delirium are:

  • Sudden confusion /acute change in mental condition
  • inattention
  • hallucinations
  • disorganized thinking
  • altered level of consciousness

I very well remember sitting with my Dad in the hospital every time he had surgery, because for him it was a given he would have delirium. Delirium with hallucinations. Every time Dad had anesthesia I knew he would come out of it talking about bugs.

As Dad was talking about the bugs he saw crawling up and down the walls of his hospital room, he was certainly concerned. Because he didn’t have  Alzheimer’s disease he could rationalize that what he saw was impossible. Yet, these bugs were very real to Dad at that moment. Seeing those bugs were a huge distraction, requiring me to sit directly in front of Dad. all the while making eye contact. Reminding and reassuring Dad that he was going to be fine, that this wasn’t real. Saying repeatedly “Look at me Dad,” all the while smiling into his concerned face.

Delirium from a metabolic disorder, head injury, alcohol, drug use, and for the elderly many times an infection or as in my Dad’s case surgery may result in hallucinations.  With Dad, as long as the hospital health care professionals could be persuaded to not medicate him(and that was possible as long as I provided one-on-one) for his hallucinations, we could wait until the drugs were out of his system.

After he had recovered from the delirium, for some time he would refer back to that time. He couldn’t get over how real his hallucinations and how real those bugs were.

The answer for my Dad and the anesthesia was just giving him time, one-on-one care and attention.

Virginia Garberding RN

Certified in Gerontology and Restorative Nursing