Hallucinations Can Be a Scary Side Effect of Parkinson’s
Do you see or hear things that others don’t?
According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, 20–40% of Parkinson’s patients say they’ve experienced hallucinations or delusions.
The foundation’s website states, “Hallucinations are when someone sees, hears or feels something that is not actually there.” Unlike dreams, these episodes occur when the person is awake and can happen at any time during the day or night.
Hallucinations may be caused by various factors. They could be a symptom of Parkinson’s, a side effect of medication, or even a complication of an issue like a urinary tract infection.
There are five types of hallucinations, the most common being visual. People may see animals or people, including deceased loves ones, who aren’t there. Auditory hallucinations involve hearing sounds that aren’t real. Less common among those with Parkinson’s are hallucinations that are olfactory (smelling an odor that’s not real), tactile (feeling imaginary sensations), and gustatory (sensing a strange taste in your mouth). Experiencing any of these can be disconcerting.
My first experience with hallucinations was terrifying — not for me at first, but for my husband, who watched it happen.
We were on a cruise, and my anti-nausea medications interacted with my Parkinson’s medications, resulting in two episodes. The first occurred in the middle of the ship around tons of people. I was sitting in the theater waiting for a show to start when my husband walked up and asked me to scoot over a seat. I told him that my mom was sitting there and had just walked over to the bar to get a drink. He was very confused because my mom was not with us on the trip.
Later that night, I had another episode. While my husband was sleeping, I tore apart our room, thinking I was packing. He woke up and asked, “What are you doing?” I told him that we had to go pick up our dog from doggy day care. After a few moments of total confusion, he reminded me that it was the middle of the night and we were in the middle of the ocean. He also told me that our dog was safe at my parents’ house and not at day care.
To learn more about Parkinson’s hallucinations, I spoke with Andrea Frost, whose brother has the disease. She shared the following story with me:
“During a period of great stress, my brother had hallucinations. He described it as a family, always with their backs to him, that were in his house. Moving around, sitting at the table. He said he went to go to bed once and one of them was lying in his bed, so he just said, ‘I have to go to bed now.’ The guy got up and went to the living room. He said they were quiet, so he just ignored them until they went away. Originally, he thought his landlord had mistakenly rented his place to another family.”
I also talked with Alan Tobey, a 77-year-old living with Parkinson’s, who said:
“I’ve had auditory hallucinations off and on for years. Deep into sleep, in complete darkness, I hear an adult male with a professional baritone voice reading a long text document, but not QUITE loud and clear enough to make out more than a few words in a row. No logical explanation.”
Hallucinations can occur in many forms. If you notice that a loved one is seeing or hearing things that aren’t there, be sure to consult their primary doctor, neurologist, or movement disorder specialist. Hallucinations could be a sign of depression, stress, or medication interactions. People with Parkinson’s face plenty of “real” issues; we don’t need our minds throwing us another curveball.
Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.