If your loved one has dementia such as Alzheimer’s, Halloween can sometimes be overwhelming. There are decorations all over, loud haunting noises, and lots of children knocking at the door in different costumes. This does not mean that you and your loved one cannot celebrate Halloween. However, it is important to prepare your loved ones early. With little planning and carefully selected activities, you can make your loved one enjoy Halloween. There are several activities including reminiscing, craft making, baking, and many others that can help your loved enjoy Halloween. Older adults with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease may be able to recall memories from long ago even if they do not have an intact short term memory. For example, a senior with dementia may not remember what he had for lunch but may be able to tell you many details about his first car.
Caregivers of people with dementia are often challenged to find meaningful activities for people with cognitive dysfunction. Reminiscing is one way to capitalize on the person’s strength of long-term memory, which can boost their feelings of self-worth, emotional well-being, and may provide insight into a time that may soon be forgotten. All seniors, including those with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia, may enjoy reminiscing about Halloween traditions from their childhood. This type of interaction can help the elder enjoy intact long-term memories and increase their feelings of self-worth. People who take the time to listen can also benefit from these unique stories as they discover a past they may have never seen and can give them more insight about our older generation.
The setting for reminiscing may be formal, as in the case of a group setting in a long term care facility or nursing home, or it may be more informal in a one-on-one conversation. By preparing a few questions in advance, the caregiver may be able to assist the senior to enjoy memories and perhaps even a laugh.
Family Traditions of Halloween in the Past
Years ago, Halloween traditions were quite different from modern commercialized trends of today. Many young people today may have no idea what cow tipping or a Johnny house is, but an elder may readily tell others all about these and many other Halloween jokes of years ago.
Ideas for questions that may jog a senior’s memories of Halloween include:
- How did your family celebrate Halloween when you were young?
- Did you wear costumes, and if so, tell me about some of your favorite costumes?
- What were some favorite, least favorite, or most unusual Halloween treats?
- Tell me about how people decorated for Halloween when you were a child.
- Tell me about some of your favorite foods that you ate around Halloween.
- Did people play tricks on Halloween? What tricks were popular when you were a kid?
Tips for Successful Reminiscing
Here are some helpful hints for making reminiscing a pleasant experience for everyone:
- Always treat seniors with respect and dignity, remembering that they are unique. Some seniors may not celebrate Halloween due to cultural or religious influences. Halloween memories may be substituted with various other appropriate memories from the past.
- Props such as a jack-o-lantern or Halloween costume may be used to get the conversation started.
- Listen for non-verbal and verbal cues. If the subject seems to make the senior uncomfortable, feel free to change gears and move to another subject.
- Keep the conversation simple and focused.
- Allow extra time for responses. Sometimes people with dementia may take longer to articulate a response or may have other health issues like aphasia. Perhaps give suggestions like “I like pumpkin pie at this time of year.” Silence is acceptable and may provide a way for quiet reflection.
- If the person cannot recall those memories, encourage others to share their own memories.
- If the person with dementia begins to ask about someone who is no longer living as if they are, it is helpful to encourage them to share their memories of that person rather than to remind them that the person died.
- You and your loved one can go through photo albums, saved newspaper clippings, cards and letters received in the past, and report cards from childhood and paste them in a book. Anything that is meaningful to you and your loved one can get placed in the book. By doing this, your loved one can practice her hand/eye coordination by placing items in different ways, by cutting paper if she is able, and by being creative.
- Sit at the table with tea or coffee and go over each photo. If your loved one does not remember a person, but you do, tell her who it is. If you both don’t remember, try to laugh it off. I have gone through my husband’s album and his father doesn’t remember who everyone is.
- Ask her why she loves her favorite song so dearly. You may just find out more about your loved one. Then, you can share one of your favorites and tell her why you love your song so much.
- You can show your loved one a flash card, either bought or a photo you have, and ask your loved one what they think of when they see this picture. It could be a photo of a dog, a house, or a letter.
- Sit down and watch any videos or slides that your family has gathered. You can even do this with the whole family.
- If you have any toys from when you were growing up or that your loved one has kept, have a talk about that toy and why it means so much. You can also do this with an article of clothing or old books.
Making Crafts on Halloween
If you are not sure what activities can be done, go to a bookstore and look in the children’s section for craft books. I have seen children’s Halloween craft books. Keep in mind that just because you may purchase a craft book for children, does not mean that your loved one is a child. These books offer simple crafts that are easy to do. This is especially important if your loved one has dementia.
- Start by making your own Halloween decorations. You can buy cut-outs of ghosts, goblins, cats, witches, and other halloween characters or you can make your own. However, tracing an already-made image is much easier than making your own. Hang these decorations in your home.
- Make Halloween scenes on poster boards and then hang them up. Fun utensils to use are sponges cut in different shapes that you dip in paint and then pat on the paper/poster board. You can do a haunted house scene at night and stick on little glow in the dark stars. You can use rhinestones as cats’ eyes or cotton as witches hair.
- Try to use “things” around your house to be creative and, most importantly, to cut down on cost. Great items to use are paper plates, paper cups, cotton, or wooden popsicle sticks. Paper plates would be useful in using to trace large circles for pumpkins and moons.
- Carve pumpkins together. Have your loved one draw a face on the pumpkin and then you can cut it out. If your loved one is still able to hold objects with a tight grip and cut, then assist him while he cuts the pumpkin. Or, you and your loved one can draw the face on the pumpkin and then color it in with a black marker.
- If you are going to hand out candies to the trick-or-treaters, your loved one can help you place the candy in the bowl. Make it even more fun by dressing up in a costume.
- Make Halloween bags for the trick-or-treaters. You can either buy the already made plastic bags for Halloween treats or you can make your own by using little plastic sandwich bags. It’s up to you. Your loved one can place several kinds of candy in each bag.
If your loved one is limited in abilities, have him do as much as he can, such as handing you bowls, stirring some batter a few times, or opening the oven door. Your loved one will be happy that he is helping you. If you and/or loved one cannot have sugar, there are many tasty sugar-free treats that you can make. You can either purchase a sugar-free baking recipe book or you can search online for sugar-free baking recipes.
- Make sugar cookies with colored icing. If you would like to be even more creative, make a pumpkin face and use candies to fill in the eyes, nose, and mouth. Candy Corns are great because they stick on the icing.
- Make cupcakes. I love to be creative with cupcakes. Experiment with food coloring in the icing and in the batter. You can have regular white cupcakes and then put orange icing on with brown sprinkles. Or, put a few candies on top of the icing.
- Bake cookies in different shapes and sizes. You can purchase Halloween cutouts for baking. Use candies for eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Make caramel or candied apples. Get some caramel squares, melt, and dip apples. If you do not care for caramel try the candied coating for apples. Once apples are dipped, sprinkle on or roll apple in chopped nuts.
- Brownies are always a favorite. Add some Halloween colored candies in the brownie mix such as M&M;’s. Sugar Twin has a recipe for sugar-free brownies. I add other goodies to mine like sugar-free peanut butter cups. Or, have a piece of brownie with some sugar-free vanilla ice cream. If you are interested in the recipe for sugar-free brownies, please refer to the Sugar-Free Brownies discussion.
Halloween Nursing Home Ideas
Depending on where you work, your resources may be limited. But this does not mean that you cannot have a fun Halloween with the residents.
- Organize a small Halloween party. Since many caregivers may be at home with their little ones or handing out candy, the party can be a few days before Halloween. Send each caregiver a Halloween invitation. The residents can even make the invitations.
- Have the residents make different kinds of decorations. You can have them color pictures in or you can have them create their own picture. This all depends on how much the resident is able to do.
- Hang up the decorations from each resident. This would be helpful if you plan to have a Halloween party in the facility.
- Find out if children are going to visit the facility on Halloween all dressed up. I have seen little ones visit residents on Halloween and Christmas.
- If you have a baking area for the residents, bake some cookies. Try a gingerbread house and turn it into a haunted house. You can purchase a gingerbread house kit that comes with everything you need. Add Halloween colors and candies instead of jelly beans.
If you would like to share your Halloween activity ideas with others, please begin a discussion below.
- Inform your loved one about Halloween and prepare them for what happens on Halloween night. Let them know that children will be knocking at the door or saying trick or treat.
- When decorating your home, keep it at a minimum. If you are like me, you love to cover the house in Halloween decorations. However, too many can be very confusing to your loved one. In addition, some of the decorations are quite scary, so choose those decorations that you know will not frighten your loved one. You can try cats, witches, ghosts and pumpkins. The decorations that are gruesome should be avoided. If you are not sure which decorations are appropriate, you can show your loved one the decoration to see if you get a response. They may comment on how great it looks or they may shriek back as if to say, “That is horrible.”
- If you like to make your own decorations, your loved one can help you. This activity can be a lot of fun for you and your loved one. Crafts are part of most adult day care programs because they assist with exercising the hands, hand/eye coordination, and self-creativity.
- Avoid loud noises as much as possible. Some houses have haunting noises such as doors creaking and wind blowing, while others have loud witches laughing or ghostly “boos.” These noises can frighten your loved one especially if they are taken off guard.
- Once you have accomplished the decorating, now you can prepare for the big night. Start by having a nice dinner.
- You can have your loved one help with placing candies in the bowl. Just make sure that the candy makes it to the bowl! I have caught many clients sneaking the candy into their mouths. This is especially important if your loved one is not supposed to have sugar.
- When there are trick or treaters at the door, you or your loved one can hand out the candies, whatever is best for you. If you find that your loved one is becoming agitated because of all the excitement, you may wish to take a break. You can hand out the candies while your loved one rests. If you have other family members living with you, they can help out too.
- If your loved one cannot have sugar, you can get sugar free candies for your loved one to munch on.
With all these simple and easy to follow activities and tips, you can make halloween a wonderful experience for your elderly loved one without annoying them.