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Dementia and Halloween: What You Need to Know

Scary costumes, extra visitors, candy concerns, over-the-top decorations, trick-or-treating, and spooky sounds can be the source of great fun for the millions of Americans who look forward to Halloween. For older adults dealing with dementia, however, Halloween can be anything but fun. Even the simple act of attending a children’s costume parade can be overwhelming and terrifying.

What can you do to make sure your loved one is comfortable during Halloween?

If your loved one is living at home and will be disturbed by holiday revelers, what should you do? If you believe that the constant ringing of the doorbell on Halloween night will be just too much, don’t be afraid to turn off your porch light to discourage people from coming to your home.

Another less disruptive way to participate in the festivities involves placing a bowl of candy at front door with a note that says, “Please take one.” If your loved one lives in a long-term care facility, you probably know that most facilities have extra guests, children coming in costume, and staff Halloween parades. It’s your call whether your loved one participates.

What else can you do to make Halloween fun and safe for a loved one who is living with dementia?

  1. Be realistic about your expectations for Halloween.

  2. Discuss your plans for the holiday with the individual. If you are attending a party or a Halloween parade, discuss what will be taking place. Don’t go into a lot of detail.

  3. Be prepared to alter your plans at a moment’s notice. This might mean replacing a Halloween costume parade with a fall foliage ride or a visit to a local pumpkin patch. Go at a time when it is not crowded.

  4. Avoid using candles. Use non-flame candles or lights.

  5. Put pumpkins and mums up on tables to avoid creating a trip hazard.

  6. If you find the individual picking at window decorations, take them down.

  7. Limit decorations. They may cause confusion and agitation.

  8. Avoid floor mats that make sounds and scary decorations that are voice-activated.

  9. Avoid using tapes and CD’s with creaking doors, ghost screaming, and other scary sounds.

  10. Consider using non-scary decorations like pumpkins and fall leaves rather than scary ghosts, goblins, and witches.

  11. Consider replacing the spooky sounds playlist with upbeat Halloween songs.

  12. Limit your loved one’s sugar intake. Sugar increases the desire for more sugar, which will diminish your loved one’s desire for healthy snacks. Offer fruit—or even a caramel apple--instead.

  13. Keep the candy tucked away until the Halloween night in order to limit consumption.

  14. If the individual is not overwhelmed, encourage him or her to hand out the candy to the children. Be sure to supervise this activity at all times.

  15. Create new memories by baking a pumpkin pie, decorating sugar cookies, painting a pumpkin or carving a pumpkin with children or others. You can obtain wonderful stencils online or from your local craft store.

Halloween is a fun ritual that can be easily updated to accommodate your loved one’s new reality. Just be patient and go with the flow.

Questions about an elderly loved one's care? Takacs McGinnis can help. Just give us a call at 615.824.2571.


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