Critter Corner: Halloween Tips for When a Loved One has Dementia

Dear Commander Bun Bun,

My mother has dementia and recently moved into our home. Before she was diagnosed, she loved Halloween, especially all the decorations, seeing the grandchildren dressed up in costumes, and eating the chocolate. This year, I am concerned about the stress that the doorbell ringing, the costumes, and the decorations may cause her. Do you have any suggestions so the evening doesn’t turn out to be overwhelming and stressful for her?

Hal O. Wene 

Dear Hal,

Seniors with dementia may face agitation and fear on Halloween, as a result of scary costumes, extra visitors, candy concerns, decorations, and spooky sounds. Below are some suggestions that will hopefully make Halloween less stressful for your mother:

-Discuss plans for the evening with your mother, and describe what will be taking place. Don’t go into a lot of detail. Doing so will prepare her for what to expect, and may bring back some happy memories.

-Show your mother pictures from past Halloweens to help spark her memory.

-Songs like “The Monster Mash” can also bring back memories.

-Avoid using candles and instead use non flame candles or lights.

-Put pumpkins up on tables to avoid tripping.

-Limit decorations. They may cause confusion and agitation.

-If there are decorations on the windows and your mother is picking at them, ask her caregiver to please remove or take them down.

-Avoid floor mats that make sounds and scary decorations that are voice activated.

-Avoid CD’s with creaking doors, ghost screaming, and other scary sounds.

-Try non scary decorations like pumpkins and fall leaves vs. scary ghost, goblins, and witches.

-Limit sugar intake such as candy because sugar increases the desire for more sugar. Instead offer fruit. Or even a caramel apple.

-Keep the candy tucked away until the night of Halloween to limit consumption.

-If your mother is not overwhelmed, encourage her to help you hand out the candy to the children. Remember, supervision at all times is important to avoid elopement or other risky behaviors.

-Create new memories by baking a pumpkin pie, decorating sugar cookies, or painting a pumpkin with grandchildren or other family members.
Halloween can be tweaked and personalized to communicate a meaningful updated ritual for your entire family.

I hop you all have a Happy Halloween!!

Commander Bun Bun

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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.