Ensure Those with Alzheimer’s Are Safe and Comfortable This Halloween

Halloween is a celebration that we have come to associate with costumes, candy, pranks and spooky tales. From the traditional carving of pumpkins to the constant stream of horror films, it’s certainly a unique day of the year.

For children and enthusiastic adults, All Hallows Eve can be an incredibly enjoyable experience — but not everyone loves (or understands) Halloween. After all, it can be a frightening event, especially for those who suffer from a neurological condition that increases confusion and anxiety levels.

Today, I want to discuss how someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s may experience this traditional evening, so that you can better prepare your loved ones in need.

Be Aware of Your Loved Ones Needs

For those who care for someone with Alzheimer’s, you know that various factors influence an individual’s comfort level and even safety. Halloween can be a scary time for anyone, but for those with an altered perception and heightened levels of confusion, it can be particularly unnerving.

If the door bell rings minute after minute, followed by strangers wearing frightening masks, you can understand how this would be a confusing scenario for someone suffering from a neurodegenerative condition, such as Alzheimer’s. Halloween brings an enhanced level of fear within an already confusing world, so be aware of how your loved one may react.

Although harmless for the most part, Halloween can also increase one’s risk of being scammed, pranked, or even experiencing significant vandalism. In order to actively prevent a distressing situation, it’s important to be proactive and mindful of individuals with special needs. In this case, those who may not understand what is happening within that moment in time.

Remember, Alzheimer’s can increase one’s risk of agitation and anxiety, so be aware of what’s going on within your home and local community tomorrow. Since Alzheimer’s causes individuals to lose their ability to effectively process and understand new pieces of information, a high stimulatory environment could cause significant panic and restlessness.

From the presence of houseguests to confusing sounds, for individuals in the moderate stage of Alzheimer’s, even friends and family members may become unrecognizable when in costume. Based on what you understand about your loved one’s symptoms and perspective, try to put yourself in their shoes — this will help prevent fear, confusion, and even wandering.

How to Ensure a Safe and Comfortable Environment This Halloween

Of course, there is never a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach when it comes to dementia and more specifically, Alzheimer’s. Each case is unique, as individuals develop new symptoms. Some individuals may be more prone to anxiety and behavioral issues, so it’s important to understand what triggers your loved one based on the current stage of their prognosis.

The following tips will not be required for each and every case, so once again, be mindful of the personal needs of your loved one. Adapt to the changing needs of your loved one, creating new traditions that are enjoyable for everyone in the family.

  • If you think that trick-or-treaters will cause alarm, it may be best to avoid a constant string of door bell rings. If you’d still like to participate, place a bowl of candy on the porch with a note, “please take one.” If you have a place to set-up your loved one that does not provide them eyesight of the front door, that would be ideal. During this time, put on a fun (not scary) movie, making fall-themed crafts with your loved one.

  • If your children are dressing up or have friends that plan on coming over, ask them to remove any distressing parts of their costume before they arrive. They shouldn’t wear any masks, carry any pretend weapons, etc. If you think that it will be an issue, also refrain from decorating your own home, including the introduction of cobwebs, skeletons, and other frightening pieces of décor.

  • For those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, they may still want to participate. If this is the case, take extra precaution and assist them when attempting certain activities. If carving pumpkins, for example, include them, encouraging them to draw the image onto the pumpkin, and then you physically carve it for them — or you could paint them! Each family has their own traditions, so continue to celebrate aspects of Halloween that your loved one still enjoys, while eliminating any activities that may be unsafe or frightening.

  • Remind your loved one multiple times that Halloween is just around the bend and what they can expect. If your loved one becomes agitated or frightened on Halloween, however, there are steps you can take to reassure them. Of course, begin by moving them away from whatever stimuli triggered a reaction, then speak softly, letting them know that they’re safe. Sit them in a quiet, familiar area, playing soothing music. You can then encourage them to read a book or introduce another form of distraction.

At the end of the day, you need to be both sympathetic and realistic. Understand how much your loved one can handle. Include them in the festivities, without pushing their limits.

Although they may have been able to actively get involved last Halloween, a full year can present new challenges. After all, Alzheimer’s is a degenerative disease that worsens over time. From one Halloween to the next, a lot can change.

On that note, tomorrow, let’s work together within our homes and communities to ensure that everyone has a safe and enjoyable evening. Happy Halloween!

Krista Hillis has a B.A.Sc degree, specializing in neuroscience and psychology. She is actively involved in the mental health and caregiving community, aiming to help others. Krista is also passionate about nutrition and the ways in which lifestyle choices affect and influence the human brain.

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