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Halloween can be a scary time for seniors living with Alzheimer's

Homes with Alzheimer's patients may wish to stick with cheery fall decorations for Halloween.
Joe Byrnes
/
WMFE News
Homes with Alzheimer's patients may wish to stick with cheery fall decorations for Halloween.

The night's treats are tricky stuff for the more than 580,000 Florida seniors living with that disease.

Groups that work with Alzheimer's caregivers are recommending a calm space with soothing music and no spooky surprises this Halloween.

The night's treats are tricky stuff for the more than 580,000 Florida seniors living with that disease.

Halloween frights are fun for a lot of us. After a brief scare, we'll laugh at the falling spider, booing prankster or groaning ghost.

But Edith Gendron, chief of operations with theAlzheimer's & Dementia Resource Center in Winter Park. says that's not the case for people living with Alzheimer's.

"Traditionally we think of scary things, you know, spiders and ghosts and pumpkins with scary faces and flickering lights, you know there's decorations that will scream at you ... or reach out toward you," she said. "All of those things really do need to be avoided."

Here's how Gendron explains it. You're walking to your car alone in the dark after work, clutching your keys, and suddenly you hear footsteps.

"That initial sensation of hearing the footsteps -- that's where our people normally are," she said. "So when you increase that you're actually increasing their distress. To startle someone deliberately ... who has one of these illnesses is actually an act of cruelty."

Experts say caregivers should stick to their routine -- avoid scary decorations -- and keep their loved one engaged in a safe, comforting and calming place.

Do's and Don't's

The Alzheimer's Foundation of America has six Do's and Don'ts for Halloween:

• "DO: Proactively address stress." AFA recommends things like Playing relaxing music, reading a book together, and providing reassurance to reduce agitation. The caregive may also want to Explain the nature of Halloween, if it seems appropriate.

• "DON’T: Use interactive or scary decorations." Those are the decoration that talk or scream when someone walks by. And flashing or flickering lights can be frightening for someone with dementia. So can fake skeletons, monsters, witches, cobwebs, and tombstones. AFA recommends decorating instead with pumpkins and fall leaves.

• "DO: Adapt the celebration." So use fruit as a healthy snack instead of candy and reminisce by looking at old family pictures of Halloween events.

• "DON’T: Leave your loved one alone to give out candy."

• "DO: Leave your lights on." That for safety reasons. AFA also recommends keeping the candy outside for trick-or-treaters with a sign that says "Please Take One."

• "DON’T: Invite trick or treaters into your house." If the person enjoys the holiday, AFA recommends inviting a small number of friends, family or neighbors to stop by to “trick or treat” and come inside for refreshments.

The Alzheimer's Association also has advice on dealing with Halloween. And caregivers can call its Help Line -- (800) 272-3900 -- at any time.

Joe Byrnes came to WMFE/WMFV from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.
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