Hallucinations, loneliness, and social isolation in Alzheimer's disease

Cogn Neuropsychiatry. 2016;21(1):1-13. doi: 10.1080/13546805.2015.1121139. Epub 2016 Jan 6.


Introduction: Cognitive and functional compromise, as frequently observed in Alzheimer's disease (AD), hinders communication and social interactions. One consequence of this hindrance may be a feeling of loneliness. Moreover, emptiness and boredom, as observed in social isolation and loneliness, may thus be compensated for by creating imagined stimuli. Conditions of loneliness may be viewed as potentially generating hallucinatory experiences. To assess this assumption, the present study explored the relationship between social isolation, loneliness, and hallucinations in a sample of 22 mild AD participants and 24 elderly, healthy controls.

Methods: Participants were assessed using the Launay-Slade Hallucination Scale, the UCLA Loneliness Scale, and a scale exploring contact with others and social participation.

Results: More hallucinatory experiences, social isolation, and loneliness were found in the AD group than in the healthy control group. Moreover, significant correlations were observed between hallucinations and loneliness and between hallucinations and social isolation in both groups. Finally, hallucinations were predicted by social isolation.

Discussion: Hallucinations may constitute a compensatory mechanism that aims to fulfil communication needs in lonely, elderly participants. Hallucinations may also be regarded as experiences that allow certain participants to escape the cycle of boredom, emptiness, and affective deprivation caused by social isolation.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; hallucinations; loneliness; social isolation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Hallucinations / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Loneliness / psychology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Social Isolation / psychology*