Autumn is a season of change. Among the ever-changing colors of the leaves, cooler temperatures, and endless pumpkin spice-flavored treats come the wacky and wicked decorations of the so-called “spooky season.” Beginning as early as September 1st and running through Halloween on October 31st, you are likely to encounter all sorts of spooky decorations, from re-creations of the Charlie Brown pumpkin patch to the increasingly popular and extra creepy 12-foot-tall skeletons from Home Depot, signs of the season are all around. These changing landscapes featuring spooky scenes can be confusing, disorienting, and potentially scary to your elderly loved ones, especially those with dementia or other age-related degenerative neurological diseases.
Here are some suggestions from our memory care experts for safe activities for seniors with dementia that allow your loved one to be part of the holiday celebrations.
Being prepared is always a good idea, particularly if you plan to celebrate with an elderly loved one. Discuss your plans, decide who will be involved, and plan where your celebration will be held. Hosting the activities in a place that is welcoming and familiar to your loved one can help make for a successful celebration. Understand your loved one’s routines and thresholds for confusion or disorientation. Having open conversations with their caregivers if they live in assisted living or memory care can help you better understand their situation.
Once you have a plan, discuss it with your loved one and everyone involved in the celebration so everyone knows what to expect. Basic preparation can help reduce stress for everyone.
Decorations can be a fun part of the Halloween season, but they can also be scary for all ages.
Keep decorations like pumpkins, decorative gourds, and other heavy decorations off the floor to avoid tripping hazards. Limit the use of noisy decorations, voice or motion-activated theatrics, dry ice, strobing lights, or loud, scary music. These things can cause fear and confusion, which may put a damper on your celebrations. Find happier decorations, smiling pumpkins, fun witches and ghosts, or other fun decorations. Think more spooky than scarier.
Be thoughtful about decorations representing dying or death. Bloody weapons or corpses, skeletons and skulls, and cemetery scenes can be unsettling for older adults. Be aware of scary movies, music, or commercials during this time of the year as well.
Keep your celebrations simple, brief, light, and fun. Load up on apple cider, candied apples, popcorn and other appropriate seasonal treats. If the children are in costume, avoid scary or distracting masks. Plan your visit for an appropriate amount of time to make sure your loved one can get plenty of rest after all the fun.
You know your loved one best and know what to expect. Making a plan, keeping decorations mild, and planning a simple but fun celebration can help you have a successful spooky celebration with your loved one.