Halloween can present unique challenges for people with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers. Ghosts and goblins, jack-o’-lanterns and skeletons are fun for most of us, but the sights and sounds of this spooky season can agitate and confuse seniors with dementia. Loved ones with moderate and late-stage dementia will need to be sheltered from items and activities that might alarm them.
Halloween Safety and Dementia
Here are some tips to help you keep your senior in Michigan safe and anxiety free this Halloween:
- Be realistic about much Halloween your senior with dementia can handle. Seniors with early Alzheimer’s disease can enjoy celebrations, but will likely need help with tasks like carving a pumpkin, making popcorn balls and packing treat bags.
- Never leave a senior with Alzheimer’s alone during trick-or-treating hours. This may mean you or another loved one keeps them company or hands out candy with them at their door.
- Limit the number of decorations. A house full of fake cobwebs and skulls may put you and your children in the holiday mood, but these types of décor can cause agitation and confusion for your senior with Alzheimer’s. If you do decide to decorate, avoid the fear factor. Items that move, talk or scream can frighten and cause a senior to wander.
- Protect your senior loved one in public. While shopping and attending community events, avoid animated decorations, especially ones that jump, scream and scare unsuspecting people. Also steer away from costumed characters and people in masks.
- Keep rooms well-lit during trick-or-treating hours. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, low light and shadows can trigger “sundowning” behaviors. Keep in mind that flashlights, flashing lights and flickering candlelight can also cause anxiety in seniors with dementia.
Tips for Soothing Alzheimer’s Agitation
If Halloween does agitate your loved one, use these strategies from the National Institute on Aging to calm them:
- Change the environment. Guide your senior away from whatever environment is making them upset.
- Comfort and reassure. Sit with your Alzheimer’s loved one. Talk softly and calmly and assure them that they are safe with you.
- Create positive distractions. Play soothing music, read out loud or offer a snack.
To read more about celebrating holidays with your Alzheimer’s loved one in Michigan, visit the Alzheimer’s Association Holidays and Alzheimer’s Families webpage.
For more information about specialized dementia care, contact one of the Heritage Senior Communities near you.
As part of our commitment to keeping our readers updated on the latest research and findings on Alzheimer’s disease, we are sharing a study from the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health. While exercise is known to be a critical factor in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, there is growing evidence to indicate it may also be good for the brain.
Exercise May Be Linked to Improved Brain Health
The study by Dr. J. Carson Smith, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology, was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. It is the first research trial to demonstrate how exercise can be used as an intervention technique for older adults who live with a mild cognitive impairment.
The trial showed that exercise not only improves memory recall but also improved brain function. Physically inactive older adults ranging in age from 60-88 years old were divided in to two groups. The average age of study participants was 78. One group was comprised of older adults living with mild cognitive impairment and the other with normal, healthy brain function. Each group followed a 12-week program of regular treadmill walking. Exercise was supervised by a personal trainer.
By the end of the study, both groups had improved their cardiovascular fitness by about ten percent. They also improved their memory performance and showed improvements in neural efficiency when involved in memory retrieval tasks.
The Bottom Line on Exercise for Alzheimer’s Prevention
The bottom line is that the amount of exercise participants engaged in during the trial isn’t overly aggressive. It is the same recommendation most physicians are already making to patients. That is, you should get 30 minutes of moderate exercise (that which raises your heart rate but allows you to maintain a conversation) five days a week.
Just one more reason to lace up your sneakers and head out for a walk each day!
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When a senior loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, families are often confronted with the difficult task of moving them to a memory care assisted living community. After they learn more about these specialty programs, most families understand their senior loved one will be better off in such an environment. Memory care programs offer safety, security and the support seniors with Alzheimer’s disease need to maintain their abilities. But the very idea of helping their loved one make the transition from home to a senior living community often creates high anxiety for family caregivers. If you and your family are facing this transition, these tips can help.
Helping a Senior Loved One Make a Successful Move to Memory Care Assisted Living
- Bring their favorite belongings. Familiar possessions help decrease the anxiety most people feel when moving to a new home. This is doubly so for seniors living with Alzheimer’s disease. Before your loved one actually makes the move, develop a plan for recreating their home environment. It should include favorite belongings such as their comfy chair, the blanket they use while watching TV, and family photos. The items that indicate this is “home” will help make it easier for them to settle in.
- Plan to move on their schedule. If at all possible, arrange for the actual move to take place during their best time of day. As a caregiver, you likely know when that is. If they are at their worst in the early evening, plan to arrive at the assisted living early in the day. That will give you time to get them comfortably settled before their anxiety and agitation peak.
- Create a reminiscence board. Before the move takes place, make photo copies of your loved one and the people and life events that are important to them. Glue them all on a foam poster board. Label everything on the board. It will be something they can keep in their room and will also help staff identify who all of the family members are. The history presented on the board will make it easier for staff to find things to talk about with your loved one and to get to know them quicker.
- The power of music. Many people living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia benefit from music therapy. It has been shown to decrease stress and anxiety. It might help to bring a small CD player and some of their favorite music on CDs when they move. Talk with the staff to see if they can use it when your loved one is anxious.
We hope these tips help make your senior loved one’s move more manageable. If you are a Michigan caregiver who has been through this process with a senior you love, please share any advice you can offer in the comments below.