If you’re a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia, you’re probably aware that they experience anxiety and agitation more often and more easily than other people. Now combine that with Halloween, when strangers dressed up in costumes knock on your door asking for candy, and it’s possible to see how the holiday might be more confusing and terrifying than fun for them. This post will look at some possible triggering points for your loved one and suggest Halloween activities for seniors with dementia that allow them to safely enjoy the fun.
Halloween is no treat for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia causes people to lose their ability to process new information and stimulation. Because we typically celebrate Halloween with scary decorations, costumes, and other activities that aren’t part of their normal daily routine, the holiday can cause a variety of behavioral problems. Here are some common causes to consider:
Changes in the environment: Transforming your house with Halloween costumes and decorations is precisely the kind of environment that often causes distress for someone who has any form of dementia.
Misperceived threats: The world can be confusing at times for people with Alzheimer’s, causing them to misinterpret what’s happening around them. Add spooky decorations, cobweb-strewn yards, and candlelit jack-o-lanterns, and the threat may seem more real than ever.
Fear and confusion: During the middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease, your loved one may begin to have trouble recognizing family members and close friends. That can lead to a constant sense of confusion and turn into an underlying fear of everything around them. Now imagine their confusion and fear when friends and family are wearing Halloween masks.
Unexpected houseguests: In a confusing world that’s full of misperceived threats, home is familiar, comfortable and predictable. But on Halloween, a constant stream of loud visitors dressed in costumes and asking for candy can disrupt your loved one’s safe haven.
Ways to safely celebrate Halloween
Here are some suggestions and safe activities for seniors with dementia that can allow your loved one to be a part of the holiday.
- Be realistic about your expectations for Halloween and your loved one’s stress threshold.
- Discuss your plans for the holiday. If you’re attending a party or a Halloween parade, discuss what will be taking place but don’t go into a lot of detail.
- Be prepared to alter your plans such as replacing a Halloween costume parade with a fall foliage ride or a visit to a local pumpkin patch. Be sure to go at a time when it’s not crowded.
- Put pumpkins and mums up on tables to avoid tripping
- If you find your loved one picking at window decorations, remove or take them down.
- Limit decorations, because they may cause confusion and agitation.
- Avoid scary decorations that are voice-activated.
- Avoid using tapes and CDs with creaking doors, ghosts screaming and other scary sounds. Instead try Halloween songs.
- Keep decorations to a minimum. Decorations that change the look of the house may lead to anxiety and confusion.
- Avoid the scary Halloween doormat. If it scares a 6-year-old, it will scare a person with dementia.
- Don’t put out a fake cemetery and hanging goblins in the front yard. Decorations may get you in the holiday spirit, but don’t be surprised when your loved one refuses to walk in or out of the house.
- Avoid nighttime use of flashlights, candles and light-up pumpkins. A person with dementia will have visual perception changes and the eerie glow they cast can lead to high anxiety.
- So children won’t keep ringing the doorbell and frightening your loved one, place candy outside with instructions for trick or treaters.
- Television channels are filled with horror movies this time of year. A single scene in a scary movie can leave a lasting impression on someone with Alzheimer’s. If your loved one tends to channel surf, consider blocking certain channels known to show scary movies. Or keep your loved one busy with other activities so they won’t watch as much TV, reducing the odds they’ll stumble upon “The Exorcist” or something even worse.
Halloween activities for people with dementia:
- If your loved one isn’t overwhelmed, encourage them to hand out the candy to the children. Be sure to supervise at all times.
- Create new memories by baking a pumpkin pie, decorating sugar cookies, painting or carving a pumpkin with family and friends.
- Stencil candy bags, fill candy bags, paint gourds and mini pumpkins, place fall flowers in vases, paint paper placemats with Halloween-themed pictures.
- Consider doing seasonal crafts, watching a fun (not scary) movie, or looking through old photographs and remembering holidays past. Put the focus on fall, not Halloween. Replace ghosts and goblins with a cornucopia or basket of fall flowers and pinecones. Look ahead to Thanksgiving plans or discuss favorite fall memories, such as apple picking with the family.
Exploring memory care options for a loved one?
It can be hard to know what to do when you have a loved one with dementia. To help, we offer the following resources:
- Learn about the 7 Stages of Dementia
- The benefits of changing your communication style with people with dementia
- The importance of routines for people with dementia
If you’re weighing the dementia care options for a family member and want to learn more about their choices, contact us today. You can also start right now by searching for an Eagle Senior Living community near you using our community locater.