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Halloween and Dementia

Updated: Sep 29, 2021

Do you love Halloween? Halloween is our nation’s second most popular holiday, and the celebration seems to get bigger every year.

Halloween may seem to be a holiday that’s fun for all, but it creates unique challenges for people living with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Stop for a moment and think about it. For a person living with cognitive decline, Halloween can be a frightening holiday, and not in a fun, campy, haunted house kind of way. It can be truly terrifying.

If you’re looking after an older adult who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, here are a few things to keep in mind as you navigate the Halloween season.

If your loved one is in the early stages of cognitive decline and still living alone at home, consider taking these actions to keep him or her safe from people who prey on older adults this time of year.

  1. Keep the lights on. Turning off all the lights will create the impression that no one is home, which could entice bad actors. If your loved one insists on giving out candy, turn on the porch light and leave the treats outside with a sign that reads, “Please Take One.”

  2. Don’t ask people in. Halloween is when criminals often dress up in costumes and take kids trick or treating with the underlying intent of evaluating homes as targets for future crimes. Remind your loved one to avoid inviting trick-or-treaters inside the home unless they know the person well.

  3. Help with the candy. If your loved one is in the early stages of the disease and is relatively self-reliant and insists on passing out candy, don’t allow him or her to do this alone. Again, it’s not your loved one who is the concern, it’s those who may seek to take advantage of an older person who lives alone.

If your loved one is less self-reliant, try these tips to reduce stress, anxiety, and confusion during the Halloween season.

  1. Keep spooky decorations to a minimum. Anything that changes the look of the house may lead to anxiety and confusion. If it scares a 6-year-old, it will scare a person with dementia. Also, avoid flashlights, candles, and light-up pumpkins. The eerie glow that they cast can lead to anxiety for a person living with dementia.

  2. Stay away from “trunk or treat” events. These community celebrations may be a safer way for children to enjoy the holiday, but for a person with dementia, they add to the confusion and anxiety.

  3. Put the candy in a safe place. Avoid leaving the treats by the front door. Your loved one may not remember that he or she has dietary restrictions. Save yourself a trip to the hospital and keep the candy in a safe place.

  4. Avoid the sound effects. Halloween sounds like ghostly laughter or creaking doors are too stimulating for people living with dementia.

Halloween can be a fun family celebration. Just be prepared to tweak and personalize your plans to create a meaningful updated ritual as you tap into a positive memory of past celebrations.

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