Does your family go all out with the spooky cobwebs, witches, skeletons, and creepy soundtracks? For some of us, Halloween is a frightfully delightful time of year. For people with dementia, scary fun Halloween traditions – and even not-so-scary fun traditions – can be just plain scary.
The Alzheimer’s Association identifies common sources of anxiety for individuals with memory loss, and Halloween can be a powder keg of triggers. When planning Halloween festivities that involve someone with dementia, it is important to consider these top three:
- Changes in environment (fake spider webs and their creepy inhabitants, witches, skeletons, eerie sound effects, or scary movies)
- Misperceived threats (strangers trick-or-treating, confusing costumes, shadowy jack-o’-lanterns, and above-mentioned decorations)
- Fear and fatigue resulting from trying to make sense of a confusing world
If your loved one is also experiencing seasonal sundowning syndrome, an anxiety-inducing condition that presents in the fall and winter when daylight hours are short and dark nights long, paranoia, stress, and fear can be exacerbated.
But families don’t have to give up the ghost entirely, says Halie Dickinson, Community Relations Director at YourLife™ of Tallahassee, a Memory Care community in Tallahassee, Florida. “People with dementia can enjoy Halloween – or at least parts of it,” she says. “With consideration to loved ones’ personal triggers, families can tone down certain elements and highlight others, like the fun foods, aromas, and crafts, for example.”
In this post, we’ll share some boos and bone’ts* to keep your Halloween celebrations safe and fun for everyone. *We promise to never, ever say that again.
DECORATING & ACTIVITIES
- Do forgo the cobwebs. And witches. And skeletons. Instead, decorate with cornucopias, gourds, mums, and other symbols of fall. Invite your loved one to help pick out the decorations and to create a fall centerpiece or paint a pumpkin to display.
- Do incorporate seasonal fruits and vegetables. Aromatize your kitchen with natural fall scents. Invite your loved one to help cook with apples, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and winter squash. Try baking a family recipe for pumpkin pie or trying a new recipe such as Cheesy Pumpkin Puffs. Don’t wait until Thanksgiving to make your favorite casserole. Green bean casserole and sweet potato casserole are in season.
- Do treat all the senses with your activities. Fall brings bright colors, natural aromatherapy with brain-healthy fall spices like nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, and ginger, and the sound of leaves rustling in the wind. Encourage touching, listening, smelling, and tasting. Diffuse seasonal essential oils around the home. If they’re up for it, and it can be done safely, take your loved one for a short daytime hayride or pumpkin picking.
- Don’t get hurt. Avoid sharp tools. Instead of carving a pumpkin this year, paint one with your loved one. Add stickers, glue on felt shapes, make little costumes and props for them, or use Mr. Potato Head accessories! Squash, gourds, and rocks can also be painted with happy jack-o’-lantern faces and friendly ghosts. Check out these fun Character Cup Decorations recommended by Crossroads Hospice.
- Do have fun! Get your loved one involved by starting the activity yourself and encouraging them to join in. Assist with difficult steps, be flexible, and don’t criticize. Keep the vibe positive and be happy with the decorations your loved one makes, even if the end result isn’t perfect. Play music they enjoy and engage them in conversation. Activities have the best chance of success in the morning between breakfast and lunch when your loved one is well-rested. If they don’t want to participate or get frustrated, don’t force it. Try again at another time.
- Do keep costumes simple. Choose costumes that your loved one can take off at any point should they become uncomfortable or disinterested. Decorated hats, pumpkin pins, and masquerade-type masks on sticks are easy, commitment-free options. Avoid uncomfortable materials or costume details that might make it challenging to use the restroom, such as a cumbersome tail to go with your loved one’s cat ears.
- Do dress for the season. Incorporate oranges, reds, browns, and yellows into your loved one’s wardrobe. They don’t need a costume to feel festive! Flannel, knits, and corduroy fabrics can add a warm fall texture to their ensemble.
- Don’t dress up your loved one if they resist. Your loved one may be embarrassed if they don’t remember or can’t explain what they are dressed as, feel silly or like a child, or believe people are laughing at them rather than the clever costume they don’t remember they are wearing.
TRICKS & TREATS
- Do prepare for trick-or-treaters. Loud doorbells, knocking, and repeated shouts of “trick or treat!” can be upsetting or confusing. You can avoid the door altogether and leave a take-one bowl outside. Depending on their stage of dementia, your loved one may enjoy sitting on the porch with you, enjoying the cool crisp air and little children having fun. If your loved one goes to bed early, consider posting a sign in your yard or turning off your porch and front room lights to deter noisy trick-or-treaters.
NOTE: This Halloween, the CDC offers these tips and more to protect yourself and your loved one from getting or spreading COVID-19:
- Avoid direct contact with trick-or-treaters.
- Give out treats outdoors, if possible.
- Set up a station with individually bagged treats for kids to take.
- Traditional costume masks do NOT replace cloth masks.
- Don’t forget treats for your loved one! Many older adults have difficulty chewing and swallowing sticky or hard candy. Instead, consider making these easy-to-eat themed treats, such as grape "eyeball" salad, graveyard dirt cake, and cute chocolate strawberry ghosts. If your loved one takes things literally, you won’t want to call them that, of course.
YourLife™ of Tallahassee’s life enrichment team makes holiday celebrations safe, fun, and meaningful for all residents. Learn how today! 850-250-5671
Inspired ● Engaged ● Fulfilled
If someone you love is living with memory loss, you want the absolute best for them. You’ll find it at YourLife™ of Tallahassee. Because Memory Care is all that we do, we have the unique ability to focus all our energy, attention and resources into creating an environment that caters to each resident’s needs, preferences and abilities while providing unequaled peace of mind and support for families.
We see each resident as an individual because we understand that each resident has their own story. Using this idea, we develop personally inspired care plans that value and support each person’s independence while creating beautiful days. No matter how much care they need, our team of attentive, caring YourLife™ Personal Care Specialists can help with all activities of daily living while providing reminders, guidance, support, and cues. Even better, residents and their families experience true peace of mind knowing that expert care is on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Our personal touch doesn’t stop at our care. In fact, it’s only just the beginning. We create days that leave residents feeling Inspired. Engaged. Fulfilled through our signature programming, YourStory. With individual experiences centered around each resident, engaging outings, services and amenities, activities, dining and more, we create opportunities to learn and pursue new endeavors. At YourLife™ of Tallahassee, everything was designed for you, but it is defined by you, creating a lifestyle that makes every day a joy. Contact us to learn more!
Call us at 850-250-5671 for more information or to schedule a personal visit today.