How should we handle it when my mother-in-law tells us stories that are obviously hallucinations?

8 answers | Last updated: Nov 15, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother-in-law has Parkinson's and she is experiencing dementia. How should we handle it when she tells us stories that are obviously hallucinations? She tries to back up her stories and gets very frustrated when we tell her that it can't be real. Should we change the subject?



Community Answers

Littlebitluny1 answered...

I always find it amusing to listen and embelish along with my mother in law. It not only makes her think we are listening, it makes her feel like we believe her. It can be embarrassing to them if you try to make them out to be liars. In her mind the story is true.

Our son talks to his Mamaw for hour s about things that are not real, it makes them closer and relieves stress. it is always better to agree and understand that sometimes things aren't just black and white. When dealing with the elderly and dementia patients you have to think outside the box. Positive reenforcement can only benefit you and the relationship you have with the patient.

Remember that every time she tells a story it is real to her. The stories should always be treated as such.


Rethajewett answered...

My mother's "stories" involve subject that are fightening to her. Example that people have keys to her home - they come in and go through her possessions. This makes her very angry and I am sure frightened. I tell her that I am sure she does believe this, but nobody is coming into her home as there are no extra keys. She has also stated that people are watching her from the ceiling air/heat vents. I did try to prove to her that her roof is almost flat and there is no possible way that anyone could fit. So, I do not see how I can agree to her stories or embellish upon them.


Caterinamaria answered...

My 87 year old MIL will tell the same hallucination stories over and over several times a day and expect us to have the same impressed excited reaction each time. It is as if this is now a new memory that replays not only today but reappear later. While we know that this is the first time she remembers telling us the story today--it is in fact the 7th plus time for us. It is hard to keep faking the reaction she wants as she tells you this elaborate story that she dated the now president of the US during WWII.


A fellow caregiver answered...

I care for my 72 year old ex-husband. He thinks we are still married and thinks he plays professional football. He loves to tell everyone what a great player he is and how much he gets paid. I used to get real upset as he approached strangers with his bizarre stories but I'm learning to just let it go. After all how many 72 year old's play pro ball? Learning to choose my battles.


Gabby girl answered...

My almost 89 year old mother keeps worrying about her parents. There is always something bad happening to them, they are lost and can't get here, etc. Lately I have been trying to explain to her that she is dreaming but it's taking it's toll on me. I'm getting overwhelmed with trying to help her worry less about them. This morning she was about to go out the door when I heard her while still in bed (the front door is right next to my bedroom). When I asked her where she was going she said she was going outside to find out where this man was who was going to take her somewhere. She was about to go outside with her jacket over her arm into the 100-degree heat and find this man. I was able to convince her not to go outside but I'm getting to the end of my rope with these delusions of hers. How do I get her to stop worrying?


Caring community answered...

Hi Gabby Girl,

Thanks for your question! You can begin you search by taking a look at this article about dementia and hallucinations. In addition, this question about how to handle hallucinations may also be helpful.

If you have additional questions, you can start our experts a new question here.

Good luck with your search!

Jeff | Caring.com Community Team


A fellow caregiver answered...

Not an answer but a shared experience. Just before I moved Mother to a memory care facility she called the police at midnight to ask them to take her to visit her mother and daddy. I found that she had their pictures in her robe pocket. Later, after moving, she asked me repeatedly if she had let her parents down....I suppose because she realized she hadn't seen them in a while. I assured her all was well but did tell her they were gone and that she'd been a very, very good daughter.

Now she'd moved on to other subjects but is never alone at the memory facility which helps a lot.


Bob09 answered...

As another shared experience I'm caring for my 80 year old aunt who is like a second mother to me. My mother is also in the same retirement center and she definitely has Alzheimer's but my aunt is the one seeing people and animals in her room all the time. We've been through several anti-anxiety medications with my aunt and have seen good results, albeit somewhat reduced, with Busberone while other previous anti-anxiety pills have had sever negative effects on her. My aunt is very sensitive to drugs so it doesn't take much to adversely affect her. She has also been taking Cialis regularly for several years first thing in the morning but the Busberone is PRN. She will usually ask for it on her "bad days" and sometimes the health care givers will ask if she would like one when they can tell she's having a bad time of it. She is naturally a high-anxiety person and, to top it off, is going through a divorce from her husband that has abandoned her financially and otherwise. It has become the only way she can force any kind of support out of him since he has considerable assets. His OCD, undiagnosed, obsessions have prompted him to deny her anything in favor of his children getting his assets vs. caring for her. Long story. It's not been a great year for either of us since she asked for my help early this year and gave me power of attorney over her business and health issues which means I'm her bill payer and body guard. Luckily my other brothers take care of our mother so I don't have to deal with both of them at the same time.

What upsets her most about her hallucinations is that she's afraid people will think she's crazy and put her away and/or her soon-to-be ex will come in and take everything as he's tried to do in the past. We assure her time and again that such will not happen any more and listen to her as she describes the children or other people that walk through her room. She has told the "people" to leave or she'll call someone and she says they've told her to go ahead as no one can see them! We've even gone so far as to leave a recording device in her room - with her permission - to see what we can hear and nothing but her side of any conversation can ever be heard when she's talking with them. So much for EMF! On other days, however, she is extremely lucid and remembers just about anything you ask her about but her hallucinations span both of these times for her. This latter condition is what prompts her doctor to say that she really has no dementia or Alzheimer's symptoms which frustrates her even more. It's just a day-to-day thing that we all bear.