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Why Halloween Can Trigger Difficult Behaviors in Seniors with Alzheimer's

Why Halloween Can Trigger Difficult Behaviors in Seniors with Alzheimer's

Once a year, all things spooky and frightening seem to overtake local communities. Halloween causes us to transform our homes, invite strangers to our door for candy, dress up in costumes, and generally behave in seemingly strange ways. It’s tradition and for most, a lot of fun. 

But viewed from the perspective of someone who has Alzheimer’s, Halloween might feel like a living nightmare. 

Halloween and Seniors with Alzheimer’s  

If you are a caregiver for someone who has Alzheimer’s, you are probably aware of the behavioral symptoms of the disease. These often include anxiety and agitation, which may cause your loved one to become restless and wander. 

People at any stage of Alzheimer’s disease experience anxiety and agitation more often and more easily than the rest of the population. Even during the initial stages of the disease, restlessness can appear as a symptom. So it’s easy to see how agitation might be heightened for someone with Alzheimer’s during a holiday designed to instill a little fear in everyone. 

Halloween Can Amplify Agitation

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia causes a biological condition where people lose their ability to process new information and stimulation. Halloween can be the perfect storm for triggering all sorts of behavioral problems:

  • Changes in the environment
  • Presence of houseguests
  • Misperceived threats
  • Fear resulting from dealing with a confusing world

As you can see, each of these trigger points corresponds to one of the fundamental ways in which we celebrate Halloween. 

1. Changes in the Environment

A person with Alzheimer’s can experience agitation when there’s a change in their environment. 

The transformative experience people aim for on Halloween—costumes and decorations—is precisely the kind of environment that often causes distress for someone who has any form of dementia. 

2. Misperceived Threats

People who have Alzheimer’s can also feel anxiety when they perceive a threat, even if that threat is not apparent to anyone else. The world can be confusing at times for people with Alzheimer’s, causing them to misinterpret what’s happening around them. Add spooky decorations, cobweb-strewn yards, and candlelit jack-o-lanterns and the threat may seem more real than ever. 

And don’t forget that there are some Halloween visitors focused on tricks rather than treats. It’s important to keep your loved one safe on Halloween

3. Fear in a Confused World

During the middle stages of Alzheimer’s disease, a person may begin to have trouble recognizing faces—even those of family members and their close friends. That can lead to a constant sense of confusion. This can turn into an underlying fear of everything around them. 

Now imagine that confusion and fear when friends and family are wearing Halloween masks. Even a costume without a mask might be incredibly confusing for someone who has dementia. 

4. The Presence of Houseguests

In a confusing world that’s full of misperceived threats, home is a haven for anyone who has dementia. It’s safe and familiar, comfortable and predictable.

But once a year, on Halloween, the home is invaded by a constant stream of ‘houseguests.’ And they’re not your typical houseguests: they might be strangers, they can be loud, they’re dressed in costumes, and they’re asking for candy. Once again, Halloween provides anything but the calm environment that’s best for someone with dementia. 

A Strong Sense of ‘Home’ at Five Star Senior Living

Halloween comes around just once a year, but people with Alzheimer’s need to feel safe in their environment every day. Five Star Senior Living memory care communities are designed to provide residents with a strong sense of comfort and independence.

If you’d like to learn about memory care for seniors with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, please contact the Five Star community nearest you. Be sure to ask about our Bridge to Rediscovery program exclusively for older adults who live with some form of dementia. 

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