Age and Unusual Perceptions image

Rebecca Finnigan, an MSc student in the Department of Psychology at Durham University, writes:

Hearing voices and seeing visions is not a topic of everyday conversation. Many people do not realise that around 1 in 20 of us will experience unusual perceptions at some point in our lives. But do these experiences change as we age?

This is the question we are looking to answer in a new study comparing hallucinations in younger and older adults.

Over recent years there has been a growing interest in unusual experiences, particularly in individuals who are otherwise psychologically healthy. These experiences have been shown to be present throughout the lifespan, and seem to be particularly common in younger adults (aged 18-30) and older adults (60+). Much of the research into this area has been focused on young adults, with findings suggesting that a considerable number of people describe having typical hallucinatory experiences, such as hearing and seeing things that aren’t there. However, there is relatively limited information available on the frequency and types of hallucinations that older adults experience.

Hallucinations in older adults are often associated with neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease or dementia. They can also be caused by hearing loss or visual problems such as macular degeneration. But there are also a range of other factors that affect older people and might increase their chance of having an unusual perceptual experience, even in the healthy population. These include:

  • Loneliness and social isolation
  • Problems with sleep
  • Bereavement

We feel that it is important to investigate these factors in more depth and compare what role they may play in the unusual perceptions that younger and older adults describe. Our hope is to increase our understanding as to what might drive such experiences at different ages, and to take the opportunity to explore the potential impact of factors which have not yet been widely considered.

Our online survey involves answering some questions about unusual experiences and then completing a short survey about some other topics. The survey will take around 15 to 20 minutes to complete, and anyone aged 18 – 30 or 60 – 75 are eligible to take part. We will ask you to supply your email address to be entered into a prize draw to win either a £10 Amazon or Marks & Spencer gift voucher. This is entirely optional and all survey responses will still remain anonymous.

If you have any further questions, please contact Rebecca Finnigan or the project supervisor Dr Ben Alderson-Day .

To complete the survey, please follow this link.

If you’d like information about how you can get involved in the other research studies we’re running at the moment, please visit our ‘Take Part‘ page.

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