Dear Dr. Archer,
My sister has dementia For several weeks, she has had a number of hallucinations. She sees and talks to people who aren't there. Is this a common symptom of dementia and what can we do to help her?
Here's the deal: there are many types of dementia and some of these are treatable. Alzheimer's (assumed by many to be the only dementia) is only one type. So make sure your sister has had a full dementia work-up and diagnosis by a specialist in the field.
With that being said, the answer to your question is yes, hallucinations can be a symptom seen with dementia. But the good news is that these are usually treatable. With the sudden onset of the symptoms, which appears to be the case here, you need to make sure they are not caused by a delirium. Unlike dementia, delirium is a severe but temporary state of mental confusion. Causes of delirium include heart or lung disease, infections, poor nutrition, drug interactions and hormonal disorders. Hallucinations due to delirium usually go away with treatment of the underlying cause.
The bottom line Robert, is that your sister needs an evaluation for these hallucinations and I recommend this be done initially by a geriatric psychiatrist. Even if no specific cause is found, she can still be treated with medication. Take care.