Can olfactory hallucinations indicate Dementia?

Kathyjeffares asked...

My 81 year-old father-in-law has our family completely puzzled. He complains that neighbors down the street are burning something and that the smell and the smoke are "killing" him. He says that he often wakes up in the middle of the night because of it. No one else (next-door neighbor or any family member) can smell this. The most puzzling part of this is that he gets upset about it and calls my husband or my sister-in-law at work complaining and tells them they need to call the Health Department or the Sheriff's office about this. Some one from the family rushes over to try and catch this mystery smoke and smell in the act. As soon as one of us gets there,"The wind just shifted right when you drove up and I don't smell it anymore." I am wondering if this could be caused by Dementia. He has given up his car keys after getting lost twice when starting out very close to home. (On one occasion we had the police looking for him for hours and he turned up on the other side of the city.) If this could be Dementia, what type of doctor should we take him to?

Expert Answer

Monica is an occupational therapist and designer of adapted dementia products through her company MindStart. Activities for Persons With Memory Loss. In addition, she works with the Minnesota-North Dakota Alzheimer's Association and the University of Minnesota on dementia issues. MindStart provides age-appropriate and stage-appropriate dementia activities, such as games, puzzles, and books. The items are simplified to meet the needs of various stages of dementia while remaining dignified and familiar in appearance

I understand how these behaviors would be frustrating. You are right to be concerned, as these olfactory hallucinations and getting lost while driving in a familiar area are not normal occurrences of the aging process. Olfactory hallucinations can be caused by dementia, in particular a type called Lewy body dementia. But they can also be caused by medication side-effects. So it would be good to have this more thoroughly examined. Seeing the primary physician would be a good start. A geriatrician, who specializes in the care of older adults, could also be a good resource. From there, a neurologist may be indicated. Good luck with your father-in-law and his health.