For most of us, Halloween is a lot of fun and an evening we all look forward to. Children ringing the doorbell and shouting “Trick or treat” with crazy costumes and masks are part of our culture and we are all too willing to bring out the basket of candy over and over again. But for those living with dementia, all that “spooky” fun can bring anxiety, between the costumes, the doorbell ringing and increased excitement and activity.
While we know that it’s all in good fun, individuals with dementia can easily become confused by the festive atmosphere and feel threatened by the clutter of “creepy” decorations crowding the hallways and hanging on walls.
If you are caring for a loved one with dementia and are planning to have a Halloween party or, at the very least, hand out candy, it’s important to understand the impact these festivities can have on your loved one. Otherwise, what starts as a perfectly innocent, fun gathering with kids, grandkids and neighbors can quickly become a very unsettling experience for your loved one and for those around them.
The good news is that there are ways you can tone down the pandemonium and yet still enjoy the Halloween festivities. The Alzheimers Care Resource Center has some tips to make Halloween a little less stressful, yet preserve the element of fun. We’ve included a few tips from our Anthem communities as well.
- Avoid the more cryptic decorations, especially inside your home. Fake tombstones, bloody ghosts and skeletons can be upsetting to those with dementia.
- Try to leave furniture in its place. Moving it around to accommodate decorations can disorient your loved one which could result in a fall.
- Avoid rigging up special sound effects, like ghostly laughter or creaking doors. These can be confusing and disturbing for your loved one.
- Keep lighting as normal as possible. Dim lighting, flickering candles, orange mini lights and black lights can be extremely disorienting.
- Avoid taking your loved one along to the mall or to a haunted house. The high noise levels, along with the many distractions can increase anxieties.
- Keep your candy in a safe place, preferably up in a cupboard out of reach. Your loved one may unwittingly begin dipping into it and eat more than is healthy. (This goes for you, too!)
- To avoid hearing the doorbell ring over and over again, consider leaving your candy in a large basket outside the door with a welcoming note.
- If you have family members who are dressing up and want to show off their costumes, invite them to approach your loved one one-by-one. Your loved one will enjoy it much more and it won’t be as overwhelming.
Halloween can be great fun. But we also understand that it brings unique challenges to families with loved ones living with dementia. But that doesn’t mean you have to turn off the lights and lock up your home. By taking the time and effort to plan in advance and make a few adjustments everyone, from your children to your aging loved ones, can enjoy the evening!
(The top image is of last year’s “Trunk-or-Treat” drive-through Halloween visit at Porter Place Memory Care in Tinley Park, Illinois!)