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Cheshire Admiral Nurse shares her top strategies for families coping with dementia-related hallucinations

A Dementia Resource Community (DRC) Admiral Nurse has shared her top strategies for families coping with dementia-related hallucinations.

Working alongside Cheshire and Merseyside Partnership NHS Trust Community Mental Health Team and the Jocelyn Solly Resource Centre in Macclesfield, Laura Birch is dedicated to supporting families affected by dementia.

With extensive experience covering the Macclesfield, Wilmslow and Knutsford areas of Cheshire, Laura provides practical advice to families and those living with dementia symptoms to help reduce the distress and discomfort that associated sensory changes can cause.

Hallucinations can be a common occurrence for individuals with dementia, causing them to see, hear, feel, or smell something that isn’t really there. This can be extremely upsetting for both the person experiencing the hallucination and their caregivers.

Visual and auditory hallucinations, such as seeing children in their homes or hearing voices that are not there, can be particularly challenging to manage.

Laura said: “It’s important to understand that these hallucinations are a symptom of the disease and not a deliberate act of the person with dementia.

“Some people living with dementia experience visual illusions, such as misinterpreting what is seen. I once supported a gentleman who thought that the trees swaying in the breeze outside his window were people waving at him. Another man with dementia believed my coat was turning into a bear beside me as I spoke with him.”

Visual hallucinations tend to be the most common form of hallucination. They are particularly common in Lewy body dementia, which accounts for 10-15% of dementia diagnoses. A person with Lewy body dementia may see things that are not there, such as flashing lights or more complex perceptions like animals or people.

“Admiral Nurses like me can provide solutions to reduce visual hallucinations and their effects,” said Laura.

“I often suggest that carers cover reflective surfaces such as mirrors as sometimes the person with dementia may look in the mirror and perceive the reflection to be another person in the house, which can cause distress.

“Other strategies that may be useful include closing curtains to avoid reflections in the windowpane that could be misinterpreted, and using plain-coloured bedding to avoid the brain confusing the patterns for something else.

“It’s also important to make sure the person with dementia has regular eye tests to manage any visual disturbance that could be causing perceptual problems.

“People living with dementia can also be troubled by auditory hallucinations. This can include hearing people speak who are not really there, or sounds that are not present such as ringing or echoing. It’s good practice to ensure the person has had an up-to-date hearing test to rule out any physical hearing difficulties.

“I advise carers on reassurance and distraction techniques, such as playing music to reduce distress and discomfort, which can also encourage relaxation. Music is known to stimulate all parts of the brain, meaning it may be remembered for longer and bring joy and comfort. Studies have found that it can positively affect the brain and sometimes even reduce auditory hallucinations.

“It’s important to remember that hallucinations may not only be distressing for the individual experiencing them but also for their carers. If you’re caring for a person with dementia, it’s important to seek support with your own health and wellbeing. Admiral Nurses like me are there for families impacted by dementia to help them to manage symptoms and issues as they arise and provide support during difficult times.”

Laura found her calling while caring for residents living with dementia at a care home.

Her passion for dementia care led her to become an Admiral Nurse, where she provides education, advice, and coping strategies to help families support their loved ones. Laura’s diverse role sees her working alongside families dealing with complex symptoms of dementia, providing vital support during challenging times.

Admiral Nurses are supported and developed by Dementia UK to provide life-changing support for families affected by all forms of dementia. Nurses come from a variety of specialities, such as mental health, general nursing, and learning disability.

About the service

Laura is part of a specialist dementia nurse and memory assessment support service which launched in Cheshire East to support local families living with dementia.

The service, which will improve diagnosis rates and post-diagnostic support, is being delivered by Dementia Resource Community in partnership with Dementia UK, the specialist dementia nurse charity.

Dementia is a huge and growing health crisis, with 944,000 people living with the condition in the UK – and this number is set to increase to 1.1m by 2030.

The additional service has been commissioned by Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Trust and supports their Community Mental Health Teams and follows a successful pilot in Ellesmere Port and Neston which helped more than 700 families.

Clinical Lead and Admiral Nurse Cathrina Moore founded Dementia Resource Community, a non-profit subsidiary of Chapel House Care in Puddington, Cheshire, to improve life for families living with the impact of a dementia diagnosis.

Cathrina said: “To find out more about the new service, families need to see their GP and ask for a referral via the local Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) in their area.”

For more information on this Admiral Nurse service, please visit https://www.dementiaresourcecommunity.co.uk/

For families affected by dementia, Admiral Nurses can help families to manage complex needs. But there aren’t enough specialist dementia nurses to reach every family that needs support. To find out more about becoming an Admiral Nurse, visit www.dementiauk.org/for-professionals/how-to-become-an-admiral-nurse/   

About Dementia UK   

One in two of us will be affected by dementia – either through caring for a loved one with the condition, developing it ourselves, or both. Dementia has been confirmed as the leading cause of death in the UK in 2022.

Dementia UK is the specialist dementia nursing charity that is there for the whole family. Our nurses, known as Admiral Nurses, provide free, specialist advice, support and understanding to anyone affected by dementia, whenever it’s needed. With the support of an Admiral Nurse and Dementia UK – whether it’s on our Helpline, through our Clinics service, or in the community – families we support know they’re not alone. 

If you need advice or support on living with dementia, contact Dementia UK’s Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline on 0800 888 6678 or email helpline@dementiauk.org. The Helpline is staffed by experienced Admiral Nurses. You can also book a free video or phone appointment to get expert dementia support from an Admiral Nurse. Find out more at dementiauk.org/book-an-appointment.  

For more information visit www.dementiauk.org, follow Dementia UK on Twitter: @DementiaUK, and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/DementiaUK

Coping with hallucinations – Dementia UK