My mother believes she is talking to the dead. Should I be concerned?

8 answers | Last updated: Nov 15, 2016
Ridle asked...

My mother is in the mid level of Alzheimer's progression, and during a recent visit she told my sister that she has been communicating with her parents (our grandparents) who have been deceased for several years. Is this unusual? What recommendations have you to handle this?

Expert Answers

Merrily Orsini, MSSW, was a pioneer in the business of providing geriatric care managed in-home care. She currently serves on the board of the National Association for Home Care and Hospice and is Chair of the Private Duty Homecare Association. She holds a master's degree in social work and is a nationally known writer and speaker on aging, elder issues, and in-home care.

Hallucinating is one symptom or bi-product of some cognitive disorders. You mention that your mother has Alzheimer's, and, I assume that is a diagnosis received from a geriatric specialist and not a self diagnosis based on confusion or behavior. If you have not had her screened and properly diagnosed, do so immediately. If you have, then go back to that medical resource and get assistance with how to handle the behaviors associated with the progression of Alzheimer's. Again, if it IS Alzheimer's, there is no "handling" it except to listen to her and be supportive of her stories. Definitely do not try and convince her that she is hallucinating, as these communications are very real to her. A good resource is a book called Creating Moments of Joy that is written by Jolene Brackey.


Community Answers

Carer2010 answered...

I think it's wonderful, even though you might think your mother is hallucinating, she could realy be communicating to her parents. Do we know what the brain is capable of in the end?? If you mother is happy and coping, i think so should you and don't make a problem out of it

Geri hall answered...

Over the years of practice I have come to realize that when the person exhibits difficulty with tasks including needing help selecting clothing, and dressing, they often report being visited by dead relatives.

Native Americans believe the people with dementia have one foot in the spirit world and one here on earth. As time goes on they simply shioft more weight to the spirit world. I have found this very helpful in my practice because my patients have taught me there is more to life than what we understand at this point. And my patients are able to know things we would never expect them to know. One of my Native American daughters told me she didn't worry when the ancestral spirits came to visit Mom because it was only when Mom shared a meal with them that she would pass.

Most of my colleagues and I who are clinicans take deep solace at this because it helps to see the idea that we have souls that don't diminish with AD. As your Mom's days in this life diminish you are going to find she has "windows" of lucidity. It is like the clouds clear for a few moments, hours, or even days and the person is lucid. In the last week of life many patients become lucid enough to say goodbye. It gives us warning that even though patients can't communicate at the end, they know what is happening. Unfortunately we can't maintian that state of lucidity and it really frightens families.

I would have your mom tell you about the visits. You want to know who is visiting and whether she finds it frightening. Understand that this may be the key to some very profound stuff so don't feel you have to do anything to "correct" her. Ons psychiatrist I work with suggests that these visits may be a way for people to work out past conflicts. A bishop's wife (patient) told me that her parents came to her with God and she was able to make peace with her dad. The next night God came back and said that since she made peace with her dad her sins were forgiven. Thereafter she has had "beings in white robes surrounding my bed and keeping me safe..."

Merilee is right in that agitated visitations should be checked out medically (most often for urinary infections or pain). All once-a day AD medication (Aricept, Razadyne ER) should be given in the morning as they can cause vivid dreams.

But, if she is calm, relaxed, and can talk about her experieinces, listen quietly with all of your heart, asking simple questions. Use touch to connect as she speaks. And be prepared to be amazed at what you learn. These visits are a gift.


Geri Hall, PhD, ARNP, GCNS, FAAN Clinical Nurse Specialist Banner Alzheimer's Institute.

Cindilu answered...

My brother and I are sole caregivers to my Momma who has dementia and copd~she talks in jibberjabber after going to bed at night and often when we hear her talking via the baby monitor and we go check on her to see who it is she is talking to she simply says she is talking to God.We find nothing wrong with this.We don't try to discourage this because it seems to bring her peace and talking to God can't be a bad thing.She still knows where we are and who we are.She seems to have forgotten how to eat tho.She tends to put food in her mouth and instead of trying to chew it up and swallow it she just holds it in her mouth and either she spits it out because she tries to talk once she puts it in her mouth.Most times she gets so uset that she can't eat easily and she won't eat anymore.Is this normal for people with dementia?She used to cry and be sad a lot but we try to turn every bad moment into a funny moment by making a joke.And that works really good.Dementia is a horrible horrible disease and my Heart goes out to anyone who has to deal with it affecting them.This website is a blessing to me and my brother.Very informative and answers 99% of our questions.Thank you and Bless you ~Cindilu Eaves and James Smith

The caregiver's voice answered...

When my father started vividly communicating about "people who were not there" I met with a lady who gave me a similar explanation as Geri Hall has in an earlier comment.

How do we know for sure these are indeed "hallucinations" and not conversations with people in another dimension we do not yet understand?

Once I looked at it this way, I tried to get my father to talk more about what he was seeing, but he could not share as much as I had hoped.

Still, the idea of him transitioning easily between this and the "other" world was somewhat intriguing if not comforting.

Frena answered...

There is nothing abnormal about your mother's experience. Everyone who works with the very ill and the very old knows that dead relatives come to visit. sometimes, dead old war buddies come and hang out too. This is a universal experiential happening. Every culture, every tribe and every race has this.

That means it's normal. Be grateful, because it is also enormously comforting for the elder or the dying. There is no need, as some incredibly neurotic (and ignorant) families have done, to call in psychiatric help. instead,e be accepting, be kind and enjoy the ride.

as to what is actually going on -- who the heck knows. me, i'm always astonished that people who profess to be christians can even be alarmed by this -- isn't one of the great teachings of Christianity about survival of the spirit???

anyway, whether it's a true spiritual manifestation, brain chemicals at work, wishful longings and loneliness, intensification of long-term memory or one of the Great Mysteries -- who cares?! It's wonderful.

PS, instead of being scared, be interested. "Really, you saw Dad -- wow, how did he look?", "It was Grandma? What did she say?", "You saw Charlie -- how wonderful!"

With any luck, your own dearly departed will return to help you get through the task of dying too. Me, I hope they bring cake!

Chris115 answered...

My Mom is also mid level dementia and has been talking with dead people for 6 months. at first a man was chasing her and threatening her to the point she would hide inclosets and so on. The doctor gave her zyprexa and that helped some, then she added gabapentin low dose to help calm her and that helped more. Now she has a "boyfriend"-she makes dates with-to the point of packing her clothes to elope with him. She is happy, so I even include him in some of our conversations. A very weird thing did happen, she kept talking to a man named Dennis Ri-----t when I asked the assisted living staff if they knew him, I was told he died there over 8 yrs ago! He hasn't been around mucch lately, though Uncle Paul is trying to sleep in her room at times- he's been gone for 6 yrs. when I worked in Hospice, quite a few of my dying patients talked to dead people. They helped me strengthen my faith in life after death. Who knows? Bless all you people who care enough to participate in I'vebeen helped here a lot.

A fellow caregiver answered...

When Mom first called me to ask if Dad was at my house, he had been dead for 8 years, I was a total emotional wreck. This was the beginning of a difficult journey that we are still on. Mom was convinced that Dad was still alive. He would be at their house in the morning and then leave for errands and not come back. She clearly was upset by his absence. Initially, I could talk to her about how Dad had passed away 8 years before and she would come back to say "yes, I knew that." I took a course in dementia care and the instructor advised that in many cases telling the patient that their loved one had died, was forcing them to relive the pain of that loss over and over again. I discovered this first hand when 2 years later I again tried reminding Mom that Dad had passed way and she broke down in tears and did not remember anything about his passing. She wanted to know if she went to the funeral, if she acted nicely, if anybody came to the funeral, etc. That was the last time I tried the "truth". She also had created a "little girl" that I can't figure out who she imagined them to be, but would go out searching for her when she didn't come home. The same instructor had indicated some techniques to use...lies of compassion. You don't need to tell your loved one that the people they see are dead or not really there. If you can try saying they are out doing errands and then try and change the subject. Or they are at school and won't be home for quite some time. If the hallucinations were about people that lived in another city say they went back to their home after their "visit". And always be ready to divert the conversation to some other topic.

Like others have indicated we put Mom on antipsychotic medications to manage the hallucinations. You really have to be vigillant about the types and dosage. We started with light doses of Seroquel, but that did nothing. We continued to up the dosage, but by the time it had an impact on the hallucinations, Mom was all but a vegetable, just sitting all day, couldn't hardly speak, etc. The pharmacist was great in suggesting alternatives that I then took back to her doctor to discuss. We switched her to Risperdone/Risperdal. That has been extremely effective for her. One suggestion here is to ask your doctor if they have samples to try out. Mom's doctor was great in providing about a months worth of samples to determine if they would work. That helped immensely since some of these medicines are very expensive. Also be advised that many of these medications come with severe withdrawal issues, so never stop giving the medication without consulting your doctor!!!!

After 3 years now it seems that the hallucinations are again becoming more prominent and less manageable. She doesn't want to leave her room to go out on drives, because the visitors might come back and won't know where she has gone. Sometimes we can leave a note to let them know where we are going and that seems fine. Other times I just wait a little bit and ask again if she wants to go out and that seems to work.

Certainly each patient will have a different reaction/success profile.