Characteristics of Recurrent Visions of the Nonphysical World Among Cognitively Unimpaired Elders of the Ojibwe Tribal Nation

William G. Mantyh, Adam D. Block, Madelyn R. Castro, Adam Hansen, Matti J. Matheson, Corey Strong, Annamarie Hill, Zuzan Cayci, J. Neil Henderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Importance: Visual hallucinations are a core feature of dementia with Lewy bodies and primary psychiatric disease, yet identification of a hallucination vs normal spiritual experience depends on cultural context. Almost no information exists in the medical literature regarding normal spiritual experiences in American Indian participants in the context of a neurocognitive evaluation. Objective: To assess the characteristics of a normal spiritual experience in an Ojibwe Tribal Nation. Design, Setting, and Participants: This prospective, cross-sectional study was conducted between August 1, 2021, and August 31, 2022, among an Ojibwe Tribal Nation in northern Minnesota. Participants were evaluated at their tribal nation clinic. Cognitively unimpaired tribal Elders who were enrolled members of the tribal nation and aged 55 years or older were invited to participate via fliers, radio advertisements, and health fair presentations. Thirty-seven tribal Elders volunteered. Main Outcomes and Measures: Each participant was asked whether they experienced hallucinations or visions of people, animals, or objects that are not part of the physical world. This was an a priori formulated question and part of a comprehensive neurocognitive evaluation consisting of history and physical examination (including cognitive screening with a subspecialty-trained behavioral neurologist); blood tests for metabolic, nutritional, and thyroid conditions; and noncontrast magnetic resonance imaging brain scan. Four patients were excluded from the present analysis due to having mild cognitive impairment or dementia. Results: Thirty-three cognitively unimpaired tribal Elders (mean [SD] age, 66.0 [7.5] years; 22 women [67%]) were included. Sixteen (48%) answered affirmatively, reporting recurrent visions of the nonphysical world. Generally, these visions were well formed, benevolent in nature, and transient; started in preadolescence; involved spirits or ancestors; and were congruent with cultural and spiritual beliefs of the Ojibwe people. No patients had accompanying dream enactment behavior, dysautonomia, parkinsonism, sleep transition-related hallucinations, or moderate to severe depression to suggest a prodrome of an α-synucleinopathy, hypnopompic or hypnagogic hallucinations, or psychosis. Conclusions and Relevance: Although based on only 1 Ojibwe Tribal Nation, this study suggests that formed visions of the nonphysical world are common among cognitively healthy Ojibwe individuals and can represent normal spiritual experiences. Clinicians would benefit from careful consideration of cultural or spiritual context to avoid misdiagnosis of neuropsychiatric disease..

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2338221
JournalJAMA Network Open
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 18 2023

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Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 American Medical Association. All rights reserved.

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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