bohmger Asked August 2009

What could be causing my elderly mother to experience visions at night?

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My mother is seeing other relatives or strangers at night, but there is no one in the house except us two. I have heard of sundowner syndrome. Is this normal in dementia?

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EXPERT Carol Bradley Bursack Aug 2009
It doesn't necessarily have to be sundowning, but yes, seeing other people and paranoia is common with dementia. Depending on the stage, if it's Alzheimer's, people often get so they think a stranger is in the house if they see themselves in a mirror as they don't recognize their own image.

If you haven't talked with a doctor about medication, you probably should, as some people can be helped. However, don't expect this to just disappear. It will be worse some days than others, and in your case it seems to be worse at night, which may be part of sundowning.

I'd suggest a doctor visit to see if anything can help with the anxiety.

Take care,

Carol
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LoisW Aug 2009
I'd like to offer some additional information to Carol's contribution. An important thing to remember is that Alzheimer's Disease impairs a person's ability to interpret their environment, so, as Carol said, she could be seeing herself in the mirror and not recognizing the image. Sundowning is a common occurance among individuals with dementia. It is characterized by increased confusion and sometimes agitation. It typically begins around mid to late afternoon. Perhaps this could be contributing to the issue you wrote about. Your mother could also be experiencing hallucinations. A conversation with her MD is most important. Medications could be at the root of her visions as well. Consultation with an MD who is also a geriatric specialist is most wise. As knowledgeable as they may be, some physicians just don't have a good understanding of the aging process, especially when dementia is confounding the issues. As Carol said, discovering the cause will not necessarily lead to the elimination of the visions. Once all avenues for cure have been explored and exhausted, ask yourself this important question: "Is this a problem for my mom or is it a problem for me?" If the visions of other people in the house are not causing your mom distress then try not to worry about it so much. It is hard for you to watch but if your mom is happy, that is what counts (once you have ruled out acute health problems, that is).
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