Halloween Can Be Scary for those with Dementia

Q. My mother-in-law has dementia and lives at home with a caregiver to assist her with activities of daily living. Before she was diagnosed, she loved Halloween, especially all the decorations, seeing the grandchildren dressed up in costumes, and the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. The children also loved trick-or-treating at her home, because she would go all out with the spooky decorations and scary sounds. 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?

A. Seniors with dementia may face agitation and fear on Halloween, as a result of scary costumes, extra visitors, candy concerns, decorations, and spooky sounds.

In your mother-in-law’s situation, if you feel that the constant ringing of the doorbell is too much for her and hercaregiver to handle, then by all means suggest that they turn off the lights to discourage people from coming to your mother-in-law’s home. Or if she wants to participate in the festivities, she can place a bowl of candy at the front door with a note “Please take one” (even though trick-or-treaters have been known to take more than one. Just sayin’).

Below are some other suggestions that will hopefully make tonight less stressful for your mother-in-law:

  • Discuss plans for the evening with your mother-in-law, 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-in-law pictures from past Halloweens to help spark her memory.
  • Songs like “The Monster Mash” can also bring back memories. View this great video of the seniors at Greenspring in Springfield, VA performing this Halloween classic!
  • 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-in-law 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-in-law is not overwhelmed, encourage her caregiver to help her hand out the candy to the children. But 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 mother-in-law, her caregiver, and your family. Your family can make decorations together to maximize the occasion. In fact, doing art projects for those with dementia provides positive stimulation and creative self-expression. And while you are coloring and pasting, play music in the background, preferably from your mother-in-law’s time period, for added happiness.

Medicaid Planning for Dementia

A diagnosis of dementia is life-changing for both diagnosed individuals and those close to them.  While it’s not easy to think about, if your loved one has recently been diagnosed with dementia, it’s imperative to make an appointment with a Certified Elder Law Attorney, such as myself, to determine who to name to make legal, financial, and medical decisions when your loved one is no longer able to do so. In addition, if your loved one hasn’t done so already, it is also of utmost importance to determine how he or she will pay for long-term care without financially bankrupting the family.

Medicaid Asset Protection

People with dementia live on average four to eight years after they’re diagnosed, but some may live 20 years beyond their initial diagnosis. Do you have a loved one who is suffering from dementia? Persons with dementia and their families face special legal and financial needs. At Farr Law Firm, P.C., we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones.  If you have a loved one who is suffering from dementia, we can help you prepare for your future financial and long-term care needs.  We can help protect the family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits. Please contact Farr Law Firm, P.C. in Fairfax at 703-691-1888, in Fredericksburg at 540-479-1435, or in Washington, D.C. at 202-587-2797 to schedule your appointment for an initial consultation.
Grandma Loves Halloween Candy: Tips for Eating Healthier

Dear Commander Bun Bun,
My grandmother has gone through two bags of Halloween candy and there haven’t been any trick-or-treaters yet. At this rate, she will have to hang up a no more candy sign before school even lets out. This is not just the case on Halloween. She beelines for the candy aisle at the supermarket and will eat fruit only if it is chocolate covered. I want grandma to be around for a long time. Any tips on how I can get her to cut down on the sweets?
Candy Eden
Dear Candy,
I am glad to be a bunny, because by default, I am healthy. In fact, I think carrots and lettuce are divine (and chocolate covered anything is yucky)!
For your grandmother and others, it’s never too late to start eating healthy. No matter how old you are or how unhealthy you may have been in the past, caring for your body has enormous benefits that will help you stay active, sharpen your memory, manage health problems, boost your immune system, and increase your energy.
As you age, your relationship to food changes along with your body. A decreased metabolism, slower digestion, and changes in taste and smell may affect your appetite, the foods you are able to eat, and how your body processes food. Now, more than ever, healthy eating is essential to maintain your energy and health.
These are some tips for healthy eating:
• Eat lots of high-fiber whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Consume fiber-rich foods such as fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. Take it from me — a distant cousin of the Energizer Bunny himself — they will help Grandma feel more energetic and give her the fuel to keep on going!
• Take Supplemental Digestive Enzymes. If all that fiber gives you a bit of gas now and then, your body may be deficient in the production of digestive enzymes. Digestive enzymes are necessary for digesting food, for stimulating the brain, for providing cellular energy, and for repairing body tissues, organs, and cells. Digestive enzymes ensure that we get the greatest possible nutritional value from foods. When foods are not well-digested, they remain in the stomach and can rot and putrefy. This can result in a buildup of waste in the colon which begins to decay, producing bacteria and toxins which eventually can seep through the bowel wall, where blood capillaries pick them up and distribute them throughout the body. This can result in all kinds of health problems, including constipation, stomach bloat, poor digestion, gas, fatigue, weight gain or weight loss, headaches, and more. Taking sufficientdigestive enzymes ensures that your foods are more completely digested, helping to eliminate potential problems due to toxins.
• Watch out for dehydration. Because of physical changes, older adults are more prone to dehydration. Make sure your Grandma is drinking plenty of fluids, even if she doesn’t feel thirsty. If she’s not getting enough water, she won’t be as sharp and her energy will suffer. Keep in mind, water is best for people, but in my opinion, chilled carrot juice also tastes amazing.
• Host a social event (and maybe stage an impromptu mini-intervention). Invite Grandma and a group of her friends over for lunch or dinner or another social event and be sure to put out bowls of candy along with lots of healthy food choices. When Grandma over-indulges in the candy in front of all her friends, maybe her friends (with your encouragement) will gently nudge/guilt her in a healthier direction. Hopefully the peer pressure will steer her towards healthier eating, and you won’t have to be the “bad guy.”
Bottom line: you can’t control what anyone else eats, but you can certainly help educate and steer your grandma in the right direction. And while helping to educate your grandma about the downsides of all that sugar, you might want to also let her know that dark chocolate actually has some health benefits! If she’s going to eat candy, it might as well have some health value.
Hop this is helpful,
Commander Bun Bun


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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.