In many places across the world at Halloween many dig out the stencils and carving knives with the aim of making the scariest, hollowed out pumpkins and set them out with candles. Dressing as scary characters, knocking on stranger’s doors in the unending quest for more sweets. The church knows this is wrong and counters with Light Parties and may even celebrate All Saints the following day. However, we must spare a thought for those living with dementia at this time and if possible provide support and comfort if there is no one else to.
Let’s put this into perspective for a person living with dementia this can be a terrifying time. They can be confused, panicked and scared. With dementia a carved, lit pumpkin may not seem a harmless decoration. And neither are the cute battery-operated ghost dishes that grab your hand as you reach in for sweets or the shops full of rows celebrating evil in scary masks and costumes.
It is worse when hordes of trick-or-treaters dressed in their scariest costumes visit their home. Some children may love this time, but someone living with dementia probably can’t process why mini witches or demons are coming to their house! It is way too much. A person living with dementia may be overwhelmed because of their cognitive impairments and in worse cases hallucinate evil images from inanimate objects.
This might not be something you anticipate needing to think about as a church leader or even something their caregiver thinks. But there are certain ways you can help make the Halloween experience as stress-free as possible by showing love, support and understanding.
What can I do as a Church Leader?
In the lead up to Halloween try and get to speak to the carers of anyone in your church who has dementia to just check that they are all right. Help them to think about some of the issues they may face and see if there are ways to support or if you can come up with strategies together to make Halloween easier.
Try to encourage them to stay away from public places when children will be out dressed as ghosts and goblins as for a person with dementia it just brings confusion and panic. This could impact them so much it could lead to them avoiding those places in the future.
On the day it is so important to remember those in your congregation with dementia and their carers. Offer support if they want it on Halloween night. This can be a visit by yourself or someone from a Pastoral Care Team. It can be lonely and scary for older people anyway on Halloween and this is intensified if there is someone with dementia in the house.
If there are schemes in your local area that produce signs for the window saying no to Trick or Treaters, try and get hold of these and offer them to your congregation but especially to those households which have someone with dementia in.
If they have to take the person with dementia out that they try to stay away from public places while there could be children dressed as little ghosts and goblins or out trick or treating (after school times and early evening especially). It may be a safer way for the children to be out in public places during this time, but for a person with dementia it will just add to their confusion. If you go somewhere where the person with dementia could be scared this could lead to them avoiding those places later just out of fear that it could happen again.
It is important to ensure that the carer has prepared their loved one beforehand. Explaining to the best of their ability that there may be some commotion, and then set them up with a distraction, like their favourite movie, favourite music playing or a puzzle.
During different stages of dementia, it may be necessary to adjust how you respond in supporting and this can only be found out by talking to the carer.