Types of Hallucinations in the Elderly

Hallucinations are sensations, thoughts or perceptions that feel completely real, yet are created entirely by your own mind. Hallucinations can be very scary, and very hard to diagnose. Unfortunately, they are very common in the elderly population, which often leads to the elderly feeling confused. Hallucinations can affect any of your five senses, one at a time, or all at once. For this reason, they can be very disorienting. However, if an elderly person lives alone and is having hallucinations, then it may take months or even years to catch. They may simply believe that their hallucinations are true, and will not talk to their family or doctor about them. Even if your elderly relatives live with caregivers or other family members, hallucinations can be hard to catch. They are caused by a wide variety of conditions and issues, and easily go unnoticed. One common misconception about hallucinations is that they must be caused by mental disease. While this is true in most cases, in the elderly hallucinations can be caused by many different environmental and lifestyle factors. If you or one of your elderly relatives is suffering from disorientation, confusion and seems to have false memories of events, then talk to a doctor. They may be experiencing hallucinations and may need medication to stop them. Read forward to find out more about the different types of hallucinations in the elderly, and be sure to read the next part of this two-part article series to find out more about hallucinations.

Types of Hallucinations

Hallucinations can affect all of your five senses: vision, smell, hearing, sight, and touch. They can either be localized to one of your senses, or can affect multiple senses at once. The most common hallucinations though are localized to one sense. However, you may also experience one type of hallucination one day, then another type the next. In total, there are five types of hallucinations to go in accordance with the five senses.

Visual Hallucinations

Visual hallucinations are the most common type of hallucinations that affect people. They involve seeing objects or people that are not actually there. Visual hallucinations can cause you to see people, objects, patterns, or even lights. They are often described by people who suffer from them as having a third eye. Mild visual hallucinations will not occur very frequently, and will often go unnoticed for years. Moderate to severe visual hallucinations can cause the sufferer to begin to believe what they see, and they may have mental deficits due to their hallucinations. Visual hallucinations can also be caused by many mental disorders.

Olfactory Hallucinations

Olfactory hallucinations are hallucinations that affect your sense of smell. People who suffer from olfactory hallucinations are also suffering from phantosmia, or smelling odors that are not actually present. Olfactory hallucinations can suddenly cause you to smell a very malodorous smell without any cause. Most commonly, the smells that people smell are unpleasant, however in rare occasions patients may smell things that they enjoy, such as their favorite food or flower. Olfactory hallucinations are usually the direct result of damage to the nervous tissue in the olfactory tract of the brain. Damage can occur from infections, viruses, injuries, or medications. Olfactory hallucinations may also be a sign or symptom of epilepsy.

Auditory Hallucinations

Auditory hallucinations occur when patients hear sounds that are not actually present. They can be broken into two different types: elementary and complex. Elementary auditory hallucinations cause patients to hear sounds such as hissing, whooshing, or whistling. The sounds are often pulsatile, and can usually be traced by to various types of tinnitus in your ear. If the sounds are correlated with tinnitus, then they will not be diagnosed as auditory hallucinations. However, if you do not suffer from any type of tinnitus, then an auditory hallucination diagnose would be appropriate. Complex auditory hallucinations are those in which people hear voices, music or any type of sound not described by elementary auditory hallucinations. These types of auditory hallucinations are often caused by an underlying psychosis such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. However, complex auditory hallucinations can also be caused by a variety of endocrine disorders, metabolic disorders, and autoimmune disorders.

Tactile Hallucinations

Tactile hallucinations involve a patient feeling as if they are being touched. Most commonly, tactile hallucinations manifest as a type of crawling sensation across the skin. For this reason, many sufferers from tactile hallucinations may feel as though they have bugs crawling over them. Tactile hallucinations can be very severe if they are coupled with visual hallucinations because then a patient may feel and see bugs or other things crawling all over them. Most often, tactile hallucinations are caused by various medications, but other medical disorders such as neuropathy, menopause, skin cancer and Lyme disease can cause them.

Gustatory Hallucinations

Gustatory hallucinations are very rare, but they do occur. These types are characterized by the perception of taste without actually eating anything. They are rare in the general population; however they are fairly common in people who have temporal lobe epilepsy. More specifically, they affect patients with temporal lobe epilepsy that is localized on the sylvian fissure of their brain.

Hallucinations can be extremely frightening. If you or someone you love has suffered from any of these types of hallucinations, then it is vital that they talk to a doctor. Most hallucinations do not just happen on their own, instead, they are directly related to a change in someone’s medical history. For this reason, it is essential that all hallucinations be treated with great urgency. They could be a sign of something wrong inside of the patient’s body that needs medical attention. Elderly people who suffer from hallucinations are also at a greater risk for falling and injuring themselves during one of their hallucinations, especially if they suffer from the visual type. If you would like to learn more about the symptoms, causes, and treatment of hallucinations then be on the lookout for the second blog on this subject. It will cover all of the necessary subjects you need to know to be informed about hallucinations in the elderly.

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