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Alzheimer's Disease

Identifying Auditory Hallucinations

12/27/1999

Question:

My mother has alzheimer`s. Today she said she heard death bells. What does this mean?

Answer:

It is difficult to answer given the information given. Patients with Alzheimer`s disease can have hallucinations, illusions, and delusions. If you were there when she said I am hearing `death bells`, and you did not hear any sounds, this is called an auditory hallucination. Most auditory hallucinations in patients with Alzheimer`s disease consist of hearing noises and not of hearing words or speech. If your mother heard an actual sound and misinterpreted what she heard, thinking it was these `death bells`, this would be called an auditory illusion. If your mother is not currently hearing these sounds but is convinced that she heard, at an early time, these sounds, this may be a false fixed belief otherwise known as a delusion. Delusions are very common in Alzheimer`s disease and probably represent the fragmented memory traces being recalled incorrectly. The term `death bells` has no significance to me. You might ask her what `death bells` are. This may be an indication that she is thinking of her upcoming death. This may occur in patients who are depressed.

If this is a recurrent or bothersome symptom for her or you, I would talk to her doctor and see if he/she would consider treatment. Depression should be treated early for best results. Hallucinations and delusions can also be treated.

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Response by:

Douglas W Scharre, MD Douglas W Scharre, MD
Clinical Associate Professor of Neurology
Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University