Why Do Hallucinations Occur Before Death? How You Can Help

Updated May 10, 2022
Family member in hospice

When a loved one begins hallucinating as they near death, you may feel uncertain about what to do to help them. Hallucinating before passing away is quite common, and there are several ways you can prepare yourself for witnessing this. Learn about why these delusions occur and how to comfort your loved one.

Why Do People Hallucinate Before Death?

Someone in the process of passing away may experience hallucinations or visions that don't appear to make sense to their friends and family members. This common occurrence of becoming delusional before death is explained by several theories. Researchers and different religions have differing opinions, although there is no one true theory that has been uncovered yet. Some believe that:

  • The lack of oxygen impacts the temporal lobe (where sound is processed), which can cause seizures that lead to visions or hallucinations
  • Dying brain cells trigger hallucinations
  • Medications trigger visions
  • The stress or anxiety behind one's impending death triggers visions
  • Previously passed loved ones are reaching out from the spirit world
  • Angels have come to retrieve your loved one from this world

Types of Hallucinations Before Death

Hallucinations and visions will vary from person to person, but many have reported that the patients they treated or their loved ones reported seeing deceased loved ones, angels, Jesus, or spirit-like beings that they didn't know. Some people will say they experienced a vision in their sleep, while others may appear lucid and begin speaking with people who their loved ones can't see or hear themselves. Others may note seeing a tunnel and light.

Preparing Yourself to Witness End of Life Hallucinations

It can feel scary to see your loved one engaging with visions that you are unable to see. You may wonder how lucid they are and feel frightened to witness them hallucinating.

When Do Visions Occur?

Know that having visions, dreams, or hallucinations during the dying process is very common. But exactly how long before death do these hallucinations start? They can begin occurring a few months before someone eventually passes away. Visions or hallucinations may increase in frequency in the week leading up to someone passing away. Try to keep this in mind if you have a loved one who is in the process of passing away. This can prevent you from feeling shocked or alarmed if they begin to engage with people or things that you don't see.

What You Can Do

If you feel anxious or uneasy witnessing your loved one having a hallucination or vision, you can:

  • Remind yourself that this is a normal part of the dying process
  • Take deep breaths and re-ground yourself
  • Take a break and step out of the room if you feel overwhelmed
  • Step out and listen to calming music
  • Take some time to decompress on your own or with trusted loved ones

Providing Comfort to Your Loved One

It can feel wonderful to provide comfort to a loved one who is passing away. Whether your loved one is experiencing a disturbing vision or a pleasant one, there are ways you can connect with them and allow them to process this experience. You can:

  • Ask non-judgmental questions about their hallucination.
  • Ask them how they feel speaking with whoever they are connecting with.
  • Place a hand on their hand or arm to help them feel grounded. You may want to ask permission first, as not to startle them.
  • If they feel agitated, speak in a soothing and slow tone and ask for professional help if necessary.
  • Try to get them to focus on something else if they seem scared, and circle back to the hallucination when they feel ready to process it.

Understanding End of Life Hallucinations

While end-of-life hallucinations or visions may seem scary to witness, know that they are a normal part of the dying process that many people experience. Be sure to take care of yourself as you provide support to your loved one going through this experience.

Why Do Hallucinations Occur Before Death? How You Can Help