Tips for Halloween and Dementia Patients
Halloween is our nation's first or second favorite holiday, depending on who you ask. Almost everyone enjoys feeling spooky and going all-out with decorations for an entire month before the wave of costume parties as October nears its close. However, all this spooky activity can be upsetting or triggering for a patient with dementia.
Dementia can cause confusion, and often makes it difficult to remember the date. Dementia patients are often surprised and disturbed by the sudden appearance of scary decor and costumed monsters in their midst. However, seniors can also have a great time celebrating Halloween or enjoying those who do, if you know how to keep it fun for those with dementia.
We have a few gentle ideas to help you celebrate Halloween and continue to share happy experiences with those who may frequently forget that Halloween is just around the corner.
Autumn Festive Decor Instead of Spooky Themes
If you are caring for a dementia patient or running a dementia care home, skip the cobwebs and witches. Nix the zombies and ask the vampires to take out their teeth. Dementia patients who forget that Halloween is coming can be easily disturbed by scary imagery and costumes. But you don't have to give up decorations entirely.
Instead, focus on autumn festive decor. Decorate with red and gold leaves, pumpkins, and cornucopia. These items are more cheerful and soothing for those with dementia. They can also serve to casually remind someone that it's autumn and they may be less surprised by other Halloween things they see.
Decorate with "October" in Big Letters
Another way to decorate that reminds someone with dementia where and when they are is to use the name of the month. Find a large banner that reads "October" and hang it on the wall. If you have a common bulletin board, place a decorative orange "October" along the top.
This will provide a visual cue for anyone with dementia to remember the month, and perhaps be a little better prepared for Halloween themes.
No Loud Toys or Shrieking Sound Tracks
Avoid startling toys and props. The grabbing candy hand and shrieking doormat may be fun for trick-or-treaters, but people with dementia are often more easily startled or upset by shocking surprises. Those who are not ready for the jump-scare toy may actually jump and scare.
Instead, opt for a friendly scarecrow and a real candy bowl.
Do Traditional Autumn Crafts Together
Halloween activities for seniors with dementia can be fun. While bobbing for apples may be out due to safety reasons, you can still do plenty of autumn crafts together. Take leaf rubbings, make friendly Halloween-themed coloring pages, or set up a cupcake decoration station. You might go around asking seniors what they used to do at Halloween parties when they were children and replicate these activities.
Those who are remembering themselves as younger may have a delightful time with traditional crafts. Meanwhile, those who are currently lucid may adore sharing these traditions with a new generation.
Wear Character Costumes from Their Childhood
Lastly, choose your costumes to delight your dementia relative or patients. Choose character costumes they could have recognized 30+ years ago. For example, like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, Elvis, or the Scooby Doo gang. Avoid masks, but go nuts with silly makeup for costumes like Raggedy Anne that are not scary at all.
Halloween is a great time to bring back historic figures and characters. In fact, your dementia patients may have a grand time recognizing family in costume classics.
Halloween and Caregiving
If you have a loved one with dementia living at home, it's important that they maintain a comforting and familiar environment. That is why Halloween may take a little bit more considerate planning.
Caring for a loved one with dementia may take up much of your time and physical and emotional energy. Your senior loved one may be eligible for NY State's CDPAP program. The Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program (CDPAP) is designed to empower individuals with disabilities or chronic illnesses by giving them more choice and control over their care.
Individuals with NY Medicaid can choose their caregiver (anyone except for their spouse or designated representative) and the state will compensate the caregiver for their care. This can help relieve the financial burdern that many family caregivers face when confronting giving up their job or caring for their senior relative while working.
Written by: Leah Ganz
Leah Ganz, RN, BSN is the Director of Patient Services at Elite Home Health Care. She has an extensive background in homecare and previously worked in various specialties including pediatrics, pain management and internal medicine. She oversees all patient services across Elite's departments.