Trick or Treat! Halloween and the elderly
Once an enjoyable holiday for your elderly loved one, Halloween can now be a stressful experience for them as they age. While they may have thoroughly enjoyed handing out candy to the neighborhood kids in years past, the sights and sounds of trick-or-treat night can be scary and disorienting for seniors, especially if they experience sundowning or have dementia or Alzheimer's. And for those who live alone, this can be a particularly challenging evening. That's where you come in! Yes, it's important to spend time with your loved ones on holidays like Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, or Christmas. But it's equally important to be there with them on Halloween.
What might otherwise be a quiet night on the block, on Halloween there are scores of children traversing past the house, squealing with delight and screaming with mock horror at the scary yard decorations in the neighborhood.
These sounds can be quite disturbing to a senior sitting alone in their house. To cut back on the noise if they're not going to be handing out treats, consider playing soothing music through headphones (if they'll wear them). Or turn on a favorite movie or television show and turn up the volume. In some cases, you can simply remove their hearing aids.
While ghostly figures of the past were small children covered by a white sheet, ghoulish costumes have morphed into something much more graphic. Yes, there are still princesses and firemen, but mixed in with them are some fairly frightening costumes... especially to someone living alone who may already be fearful.
Imagine your confused loved one opening the door only to be face-to-face with a teenager covered in stage blood. This is one of the many scenarios you want to avoid.
Keep in mind, in many cases it's no longer neighborhood kids going to door-to-door in search of treats. Depending on the area, dozens of kids from other neighborhoods are dropped off to trick-or-treat at houses of total strangers. It wasn't that way when your folks were young.
Which brings us to another issue:
Giving out Halloween candy can be quite expensive and many seniors on fixed incomes simply can't afford it. And some kids can get downright rude when they're given "snack-size" treats or what we used to call "penny candy." Appreciation isn't always what it used to be.
Some wonderful changes have occurred based on need. For example, some children will be carrying blue Halloween buckets in place of the traditional orange ones. The children carrying blue buckets are autistic and might not act the way you expect trick-or-treaters to act. This can be off-putting to an elderly person who has never met anyone with autism. Sensitivity is key and your loved one might need some guidance.
If a child knocks on the door carrying a teal bucket, that means they have a food allergy and non-food trinkets or toys are the only thing they can gather. Without knowing this, it would be natural for someone to toss some candy in their bucket. So, what if that's all there is to give? Politely explain that the candy is all you have and offer an apology. Or toss in a couple of quarters. By the way, you can let kids with allergies know they'll find appropriate treats at your house by displaying a teal bucket outside your door.
Halloween presents some real dangers for the elderly who live alone.
Falling. The constant getting up and down to answer the door can be tiring and present a fall risk, particularly if there are any mobility issues. Make sure there are no throw rugs on the pathway to the door. Positioning a comfortable chair near the entrance will prevent the need to cross the room.
Vulnerability. You never know who is hiding behind the masks. An elderly person alone in their house is easy to spot and they become extremely vulnerable to a burglary or worse. Make sure the house is well-lit and insist they never let anyone in to use the bathroom or phone.
Disorientation. As mentioned before, the activity of the evening can be extremely disorienting to someone used to a quiet routine. Even if they were fine last year at this time and enjoyed the task of handing out treats on their own, look for any changes that could signal a risk this year. The smallest changes could trigger an episode no one was prepared for.
So, what can you do? It is really important that your elderly loved one is not alone on Halloween. If you can't be there, try to find a family member, neighbor, or friend to volunteer to hand out treats and spend some quality time at the house. And if that doesn't work, consider hiring a professional caregiver for the evening. Dignity HCP has some of the best Pittsburgh in-home caregivers available and we'd love to help.