Halloween can be a great source of merriment. Numerous care homes & families host successful Halloween parties for family members with dementia to enjoy it & have fun. We can learn from that because they understand how Halloween can affect someone with dementia and work around that knowledge.
The key things to focus on are:-
- the person with dementia
- the dementia symptoms exhibited
- their environment & location
- Positive preparation and activity plan for the holiday
Focusing on these things can help you understand how Halloween can affect someone with dementia and try to avoid triggering distressing behaviour.
So let’s get to it!
How Halloween Can Affect Someone With Dementia & Hallucinations?
Those with Alzheimer’s disease or Lewy Bodies dementia (& other dementia types) may experience hallucinations seeing or hearing things that are not there, so you may want to avoid wearing graphic Halloween costumes or masks around them and focus more on playing games, conversations, dancing, listening to music or watching old movies.
If someone experiences hallucinations that don’t scare them, then live in their world with them. My mum always sees young children that she wants to protect. Talk about what they’re seeing and involve them as part of the Halloween activities. Keep your energy positive, fun and light so they also feel that energy. Try including reminiscing as part of the Halloween activities for dementia.
How Halloween Can Affect Someone With Dementia & Memory Problems?
As dementia progresses, loved ones with dementia may experience increasing memory problems, as seen with dementia types like Alzheimer’s and Vascular Dementia. Their short-term memory can be affected. They may not recognise you anymore, so how you interact becomes more important—for example, it’s an early symptom for those with Frontotemporal dementia.
- Ensure that your Halloween activities for dementia can be seen clearly.
- Add some tactile games where you use your loved one’s senses of touch and smell.
- Getting down to their level, using touch and eye contact to reassure them
- Doing joint Halloween activities like bobbing apples with a spoon, even their hands, painting or working with clay or reading ghost stories from their era etc
- Don’t forget that long-term memories are retained longer, so use that to your advantage, and play games from that era!
How Halloween Can Affect Someone With Dementia with a Short Attention Span?
Dementia can affect attention span and concentration. My mum, with mid-stage Alzheimer’s, has an attention span that varies during the day. She’s more responsive in the mornings, and later in the day, we target activities or events that provide short bursts of enjoyment and fun.
Look out for signs from your loved one if they’re tired or no longer enjoying it. Make a competition for the Halloween games you planned. If they’re anything like my mum, she’ll want to win, which keeps up her energy and engagement.
Partner them with another family member so that when they need a bit of rest, they can continue whilst your loved one has space to recharge or relocate to a quiet room to rest.
How do they react to lots of noise, parties, trick-or-treaters, & lots of people around them? Does their dementia type mean they can only tolerate short bursts of the Halloween palaver. Think about ways to ensure a safe Halloween for your loved one.
How Halloween Can Affect Someone With Dementia & Their Visual Perception?
The occipital lobe processes visual information; as the brain becomes damaged by dementia, a person with dementia can perceive or identify things incorrectly and, as mentioned above, deal with hallucinations. This is one of the reasons that Halloween can cause fear and confusion in dementia.
Halloween can be scary. Accidents are more likely if they don’t recognise objects, misinterpret what they are, or judge spatial distances improperly. You can find more tips on how to have a safe Halloween here.
Someone with dementia may perceive someone dressed up as a ghost, covered in blood, or wearing a scary mask to be REAL and frightening. If your loved one has trouble recognising family members already, imagine how much more difficult that would be in costumes and masks!
So I’d be cautious with decorations, spooky sounds, fake blood, and lots of people coming and going in costumes and masks. All these things could be perceived to be harmful, cause stress and confusion and be frightening for somebody with dementia. It really depends on the stage & type of dementia, how they will be affected and whether they can differentiate from what’s real.
How Halloween Can Affect Someone With Dementia Halloween? Look At Your Environment!
Halloween decorations can affect the home’s appearance and familiarity for your loved one.
Those with dementia sometimes call for you to take them home even without decorations, as they may be remembering a home from an earlier time in their life, or somewhere they feel more secure.
So be careful with using Halloween decorations that transform your home, look for a happy medium, and judge what’s appropriate for your loved one with dementia.
In some cases, decorations may not frighten them or disorient them, so why not take them for a tour of the house, explaining each piece, making a game of it, asking them about what it feels like, looks like, and who made it (make them part of the decoration’s evaluation committee!) or make up a game with clues like a treasure hunt hidden behind or in the decorations!
How Halloween Can Affect Someone With Dementia? Remember Sundowning!
The spookiest time for Halloween gatherings and events is usually early to late evening. That’s right, smack bang in the middle of the time, most people with dementia experience sundowning. So you may see agitation and anxiety already without the added stress of Halloween with trick-or-treaters.
When you add in the strange/loud noises, scary costumes, decorations, fireworks, fake blood etc, it can REALLY be scary for someone with dementia.
Are you living with someone who is in more need late afternoon and evening? In that case, a calm situation for that night might be best rather than an entire Halloween party.
Preparation is Key on How Halloween Can Affect Someone With Dementia!
The final thing is preparation. You know Halloween is coming up, don’t leave something to the last minute. Sit down and plan around your understanding of your loved one’s dementia symptoms. Do they need a little family support to ensure they enjoy the holiday?
By planning, you’ll have a calm room setup. You’ll know the best time to have activities, & the level of participation or whether they’ll just be watching the entertainment from the sidelines with their favourite things!
You’ll know how to reduce any Halloween stress & anxiety by planning to avoid things that can trigger fear & confusion. Hopefully, it’s the opposite, and they love all the attention & being involved.
Planning also means asking your loved one what they wish for – do they want to participate or avoid all the noise and distractions?
Doing seated activities, using your voice for reinforcement, being tactile, and providing reassurance can help during Halloween. Simple actions which create engagement and laughter are best. Just remember to look out for signs of confusion!
Make sure to adapt activities to match their abilities, e.g like a more straightforward word search, bingo etc.
You know your loved one best, so go with what you know works!
These are a few reasons on how Halloween can affect someone with dementia & a few ideas on how to avoid them. You can read more tips in this article, ‘13 Tips for a Safe Halloween for Dementia Caregivers‘.