We are approaching one of my favorite holidays — Independence Day! I love this holiday. Between the bonfires, parades and fireworks, there are picnics to enjoy or maybe a day at the beach. For me, it might be the perfect holiday. I am so looking forward to the events that are returning this year, and hope that next year will see a return of all of the traditional programs.
For many people, Independence Day is difficult. You might have a small child or pet that is terrified by the noise of the fireworks. I remember having to leave the fireworks early as my toddler freaked out. The difficulty was compounded by the neighborhood fireworks blasting away all night long. Independence Day couldn’t end soon enough for me that year.
An elder living with dementia may struggle during the holiday. The crowds at a parade may be disorienting and cause distress. If the elder has a tendency to wander, a parade might provide the distraction to allow a wanderer to disappear into the crowd. Fireworks can be frightening — especially if the elder experiences “Sundown Syndrome” or has PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Even a family picnic can be overwhelming.
We can help elders who live with dementia to cope with the festivities.
It can be helpful to keep with the usual schedule as much as possible. If a 3 o’clock nap is usual, try to ensure that the nap can still take place.
Planning ahead can help. Talking about the upcoming holiday in the days prior and putting up decorations in the elder’s home might help them remember that the holiday is approaching and to prepare them for the unusual sights and sounds. Festive, patriotic clothing can also help remind them as the holidays occur.
Where possible, allow your elder to assist with the preparations. Helping to choose festive napkins or paper plates at the store, and then putting out the items can remind your elder that that there is going to be a party.
During a picnic, it might be helpful to keep your loved one out of the center of the party. A quiet corner away from the festivities might be less stressful.
If your elder’s home is near enough to the fireworks for the noise to be distressful, old favorite patriotic music can provide a festive atmosphere and muffle the sound. If the elder will wear earphones, favorite music through headphones will more effectively block the fireworks noise. Don’t forget that fireworks come with a vibration that can cause anxiety or distress.
If your elder enjoys the spectacle of watching fireworks, there are places you can see them without the crowds and with less booming. If you choose a location that is some distance from the show, the noise can be significantly less.
If your loved one lives alone, leave notes in places he or she will see saying that he or she will be hearing and possibly feeling fireworks. In the case of memory loss, this will serve as a consistent reminder throughout the holiday.
In case of extreme anxiety, it would not be unreasonable to discuss the situation with your loved one’s doctor.
The Independence Day holiday is an important celebration for all of us. Wishing you all a safe and healthy holiday.
Tracy Arabian is the communications officer at SeniorCare Inc., a local agency on aging that serves Gloucester, Beverly, Essex, Hamilton, Ipswich, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Rockport, Topsfield and Wenham.