What to Do When Hallucinations Disrupt Sleep

Is there really an intruder in the house? A giant bear in the backyard? A jackhammer blasting away in the next room? Hallucinations -- seeing, hearing, or smelling things that aren't really there -- often increase in the evening among those with severe-stage Alzheimer's who experience them.

Experts aren't sure why this time of day is problematic; it may be related to similar forces that cause sundown syndrome. But because upsetting hallucinations at night can make the person in your care anxious or upset, they often interfere with everyone's sleep.

Your best bets to preserve sleep:

  • Acknowledge the imaginary presence or situation. Comment on it matter of factly. There's no harm in agreeing, if a little white lie is appropriate to the circumstances.

  • Assure your loved one that you'll take care of it. Realize that some hallucinations aren't upsetting; someone may seem happy to "see" a long-dead relative, for example -- but even welcome visions can stir everyone up.

  • Distract your loved one with a pleasant experience, such as a glass of warm milk or some music.

  • Keep the evening wind-down routine as calming and as normal as you can.

See more great ideas for dealing with hallucinations.

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio