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this whole phenomenon of hallucinations

by Judy
January 10, 2013

I've been thinking about this whole phenomenon of hallucinations that happens, it seems, so frequently in the elderly. It also seems to be a phenomenon spoken about so little by doctors, nurses or caregivers. Why is that? Is it because it is so unknown and the medical field really doesn’t know why it occurs and so has not addressed it? Or maybe because they don’t know how to “mend” it? It’s like this unspoken phenomenon that no one really wants to get into, but as a family member, you are suddenly confronted with it in a big way. I recently spoke with a friend of mine who told me how for a few weeks his mother thought he was in the KGB - she totally flipped out after having surgery and this went on for weeks. Eventually it changed and she was sane again. I think when it does change, one is so totally relieved and then it quickly falls into the background of one’s life.

My mother has been going in and out of hallucinations for the past three years, mostly at night. The worst was after she had a pacemaker put in and the following night, she was talking to imaginary people, eyes wide open all night long. In retrospect some of the conversations were quite funny but at the time, it was a nightmare. I thought, “Were all the medical procedures she had been through to keep her alive, all for this, for her to become an insane person?" I called her doctor the next day, and thank goodness, he seemed to know something about these things. He told me the hallucinations would get less and less and not to worry, that they often can come from anesthesia or antibiotics. That was a relief and she did come out of that extreme altered reality.

Mostly when it happens now, we, meaning myself and her caregivers, just go along with her, don’t make a big deal about it and it goes away. It's an interesting phenomenon to consider in terms of seeing things as they are. For all of us there is a continuum of that - from being absolutely out of touch with reality to degrees of insanity or sanity, whichever way we look at it. For example I can see how easily the world is distorted based on what the Buddha called fear and desire and which also could be understood as how much "I" am at the center of the Universe and everything is seen through those self-centered eyes. In that way, one could say we are all to one degree or another hallucinating. Perhaps we can never see things exactly as they are, but knowing that and knowing how “crazy” our minds are, gives space and perspective. In the case of my mom, if she, from time to time sees someone who isn't there or hears something that didn’t occur, it really doesn’t make that much difference in the grand scheme of things. Having this bigger perspective is everything and has so much to do with putting what is most important first.

In my mother's case, what is most important is her peace of mind, being cared for, respected and to whatever degree possble, engaged. The heart of the carer wants to protect and nurture and simultaneously fuel those sparks still vibrating with the force of life. 

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