My grandmother made it to 100 before ever calling 911. But one night she could hear someone trying to break into her house. From the balcony she could see a man trying to break the window lock. The police car scared him off. Surprisingly for a neighborhood with only a few feet between houses, none of the neighbors heard anything.

It happened again the next night while my dad was there with her. He was casing the house, smashed the glass, unlocked the door and came in. Only no one else could see him. My grandmother was so shaken up she needed someone by her side for the next day. The man kept coming back. There was a strange woman and child in her bed. My grandmother kept seeing people no one else could see.

We knew older folks could experience delusions and extreme confusion from UTIs, but that wasn’t the case here. And she was otherwise totally lucid. What was going on?

a woman at a window who might be a ghost - my grandmother was seeing people who weren't there in her victorian homeThis had happened once before. When she’d been given codeine in the hospital she had a number of delusions, from thinking she was on a cruise ship to thinking she was being held captive. The hospital staff realized what was going on pretty quickly – they said it was a common side effect, which Bob’s sorry attests to – and switched her medication. But she’d been out of the hospital for days before it started this time.

By time the doctors had seen her, her symptoms were already subsiding. Or, at least they seemed to be. Her daughter asked if she was still seeing the people. My grandmother said yes, she was, but she knew they weren’t real, so if no one else saw someone, she just ignored them.

I can’t imagine the mental strength that must have taken. Can you imagine something terrifying happening, but no one is doing anything about it? And then to use logic, in this moment of fear, to decide to act like nothing is happening?

After a week or so, she said she no longer saw anything she needed to ignore.

We never got a satisfying explanation for what caused it. A delayed reaction to medication? Am undiagnosed infection? Stress? Now we know to be extra vigilant when she’s switching medication. Don’t discount personality changes – they can be an important sign of a medical issue. And, regardless of the cause, it’s important to do what you can to provide comfort and reassurance when someone is experiencing delusions.

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