Trick-Or-Treating Can Alarm People With Dementia
From the World’s Largest Halloween Party at the Louisville Zoo to the Jack O’ Lantern Spectacular at Iroquois Park and, of course, trick-or-treating, Halloween and all of its spooky glory are often centered on children and families. But there are some folks in the community who may need your help during Halloween. Halloween decor like fog machines, props that play a witch’s cackle, and propped headstones can be unsettling and confusing for the elderly, especially those who may have dementia. And whether it’s children dressed as ghosts, goblins, or zombies at Halloween or an increase of visitors through the entire holiday season, a thrown-off routine can mean a lack of security.
“It could be your grandmother, aunt or uncle, who might look fine on the outside, is internally going through major cognitive changes and have a difficult time interpreting changes around them,” said Jasmine Wadkins, a senior behavioral health consultant at SignatureHealthCARE, a local long-term care facility.
For those not directly facing the challenges of dementia, it can be difficult to understand your impact on a portion of the population. In the U.S., 5 million people have Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia.
So here are some tips to keep in mind to be more mindful and safe when celebrating Halloween:
If you’re taking your children door to door for trick-or-treating, try not to be too loud. Keep children organized or in a single-file line when visiting a home or care facility. A constant stream of young visitors can cause anxiety and agitation for an elder with memory impairment.
Be cognizant of homes with the front light off — it likely means they are not handing out candy. In some instances, you may just find a bowl of candy left on the porch. Look for “trunk or treat” events, where Halloween activities take place in parking lots outside of facilities, like nursing homes and hospitals, to ease the residents’ fears.
In general, it’s important to be mindful of decorations and the potential for overstimulation. For example:
- Keep nighttime lights to a minimum. Illuminated jack-o’-lanterns or strobe lights can cause issues with visual perception and increase peoples’ likelihood of falling.
- Instead of carving a jack-o’-lantern, which can be frightening, try painting a pumpkin instead.
- Instead of decorating with witches, ghosts and goblins, try harvest-related decorations, like pumpkins, squash, fall flowers, corn stalks, and leaves.
What You Can Do to Help
If you have an elderly loved one who lives alone, make plans for them to be accompanied by another adult on Halloween.
During the days prior to Halloween, check on your elderly friend or relative to ensure they are not experiencing anxiety triggered by neighborhood decorations and activity.
Halloween should not be a time of the year when individuals with cognitive impairments are left out, Wadkins said. Many folks can still enjoy all of those festivities. It’s just about being mindful of everyone’s needs.
Keep Others Safe
While dementia/Alzheimer’s don’t have a designated color of pumpkin, you may notice teal or blue pumpkins outside front doors this Halloween.
If you see a teal pumpkin, it’s likely part of the Teal Pumpkin Project, a movement dedicated to raising food allergy awareness and helping kids with allergies trick or treat safely.
A blue pumpkin can symbolize someone with autism and might mean a person trick-or-treating may require specific or different needs.
Source: Courier Journal