Caring for a Person Who Is Having Hallucinations

 

Todd Belok

Todd Belok serves as a mental health technician at the Episcopal Campus of Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. There, Todd Belok cares for patients with a variety of mental illnesses, addressing symptoms that include hallucinations.

A hallucination is present when a person experiences something with one or more of the senses, yet no one else can validate or share the experience. Hallucinations may involve any of the five senses, though the most common are auditory. Common in schizophrenia, psychotic depression, and certain other mental illnesses, hallucinations may also result from a fever or other physical ailment.

The most important factor in treating a hallucination is the determination of its root cause, although it is also important to care for the person’s distress in the moment. Empathy is crucial, as the person who is hallucinating may not be able to tell the hallucination from reality. Without either engaging with the hallucination or attempting to convince the patient of its fictitiousness, the caregiver can acknowledge that the patient is upset or anxious.

Hallucinations can be distracting, so the caregiver must keep communications simple. Depending on the patient’s level of awareness, the caregiver can invite him or her to talk about the experience and ask if anything might help. If the patient does not know how to soothe or help himself or herself, the caregiver may suggest a distraction, such as music or television.

Once the patient is calm and safe, the caregiver can talk to other members of the treatment team to see if medication or other elements of the care plan require adjustment. In the meanwhile, it may be important for the caregiver to monitor physical health and response to treatment, depending on his or her role within the care team.

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