From Valentine’s Day to Thanksgiving, the calendar year is filled with special days to mark and acknowledge – Mothers’ Day, Fathers Day, Summer Solstice, Pancake Day, Halloween, the list goes on. Each day has its own set of rituals and traditions, and while taking time to celebrate the little moments in life is important, some of these days can be challenging to cover in a care home, or if you’re caring for those with dementia.
Certain things can bring up painful memories – Mothers and Fathers days can be hard for those with few family left; while Christmas with its change in routine and the pressures of family events can be equally unsettling. And, at this time of year, Halloween and Bonfire Night loom large – major seasonal touchpoints that seem to get bigger every year.
How can you manage Halloween and Bonfire Night in your care home, to ensure you get a balance between celebration and not overwhelming residents?
In many aspects, Halloween should probably be treated with a little caution. The way we celebrate Halloween now is a relatively new concept - American influences have made Halloween a much more commercial event than it used to be – and, in fact, back when your residents were young, it wasn’t a particularly big deal. Plus, the more concerning concepts of frights and shocks, coupled with trick or treating, ghouls and ghosts, will do nothing for your residents.
That said, there are aspects of Halloween that will provide some great crafts and activities to do together. Our Pinterest pages have ideas of plenty of safe and easy crafts you can do with residents – from pumpkin vases and flower arranging to paper plate spiders and witches’ brew sensory games; while our Resource Pack details the likes of bat pegs and Halloween bowling.
Fire It Up!
Bonfire Night – on the other hand – is a very different matter. We always mark this day in our Daily Sparkles. The historical aspect provides plenty of food for thought and topics for discussion and your residents will love sharing their stories about the childhood memories of Bonfire Night – making a Guy, going to a local bonfire event, watching the fireworks.
Perhaps they remember taking the Guy around the local neighbourhood asking for ‘a penny for the Guy’; wrapping potatoes in foil to be cooked in the fire, a warming treat for a cold November evening; or Parkin cake, a sticky cake eaten on 5 November, containing a mix of oatmeal, ginger, treacle and syrup. They may even recall the simple fun of 'Mischief Night' where they played practical jokes on adults – something that has eventually morphed into the aforementioned trick or treating!
We especially enjoy the fireworks aspect of Bonfire Night. People living with dementia love the simplicity of things, and fireworks are such a wonderful, magical thing to enjoy. If you can’t get out to a firework display, or feel it might be a bit much for some of your residents, you can find some fantastic videos of fireworks online. We love this one, this one and this one – all set to classical music, they’re fun and whimsical.
Afterwards, you could discuss the different types of fireworks with your residents - such as Catherine wheels, bangers, rockets – or even simple sparklers. And if possible, you could even attend – or have – your own fireworks display, residents could help with preparing food and making the guy for instance.
Of course, on the night itself, it is worth being aware that celebrations around you might create some excess noise and the big bangs can be frightening for anyone. We recommend having a range of distractions ready so that if that is happening you can turn their focus away – switch on a recording on the Coronation or some of their favourite music, just something which helps to soothe the banging outside.
Celebrating seasonal events is a great to way to help residents get a sense of the passing of days, the changing of the seasons and the specific time of year; and many events throughout the calendar will spark happy memories and reminiscence, so it’s a great resource for activities – just make sure you tread carefully where needs be!