Creating a dementia-friendly Halloween: Six DOs and DON’Ts


As Americans prepare to enjoy Halloween next week, the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America (AFA) is offering six DOs and DON’Ts to help families and friends keep their loved ones living with dementia-related illnesses safe and comfortable.

“Halloween can be very challenging and stressful for someone with dementia because of how these illnesses impact the brain. Scary sights, frightful sounds, and costumed strangers knocking on the door can cause anxiety, fear, and agitation,” said Jennifer Reeder, LCSW, AFA’s Director of Educational & Social Services. “Taking a few simple steps can help families and friends keep the ‘Happy’ in ‘Happy Halloween’ for their loved ones with dementia on Oct. 31.”

AFA encourages caregivers to follow these six steps to create a dementia-friendly Halloween:

DO: Proactively address stress. Halloween is potentially full of noise, costumes, and strangers, which are frightening for someone living with dementia. Playing relaxing music, engaging in a quiet activity such as reading a book together, and providing verbal and physical reassurance can all help decrease agitation or distress. Explain the nature of Halloween to your loved one, if it seems appropriate.

DON’T: Use interactive or scary decorations. Decorations that talk or scream when someone approaches or walks by, as well as those with flashing or flickering lights, are frightening for someone living with dementia, and might make them try to wander. Fake skeletons, monsters, witches, cobwebs, and tombstones, even if non-interactive, could also be scary. Decorate instead with such things as pumpkins and fall leaves.

DO: Adapt the celebration. Replace candy with fruit or another healthy snack for your loved one; too much sugar intake could increase agitation. Reminisce by looking at old family pictures of Halloween events, paint pumpkins together, or watch a non-threatening program about Halloween if they seem to want to participate. Focus on what they can (and choose to) do now, rather than what they used to do before the onset of dementia.

DON’T: Leave your loved one alone to give out candy. Costumed strangers continually knocking on the door could be frightening and disorienting to someone living with dementia. It could also pose a safety risk. If the person wants to interact with trick or treaters by giving out candy, have someone there to assist, or arrange for the person to go to a relative or friend’s house. There may be an appropriate, non-threatening celebration at a community center or organization in your loved one’s neighborhood.

DO: Leave your lights on. Have interior and exterior lights on for safety. Keep candy outside your door for trick-or-treaters with a sign that says “Please Take One.”

DON’T: Invite trick or treaters into your house. This creates potential safety issues and the possibility of further disorientation. Unless the person knocking is someone you not let trick or treaters inside the home. You can invite a small number of friends, family or neighbors to stop by to “trick or treat” and come inside for refreshments, if your loved one enjoys this holiday and wants to participate.

Families who have questions about caring for someone living with Alzheimer’s disease can contact AFA’s Helpline by phone (866) 232-8484, text message (646) 586-5283, or webchat www.alzfdn.orgto speak with a licensed social worker. The Helpline is open seven days a week.

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