One of the more treasured and traditional Fourth of July components may need to be put on hold if someone in your household is dealing with dementia.
What we’re talking about is fireworks, which can often be enjoyable to watch and even set off, depending on the size and type.
But not everyone feels this way. Many RNs who have worked with dementia patients say any fireworks, whether they’re the big displays or the little ones in your neighborhood, can make life challenging for certain people with medical conditions, especially dementias.
The team at Accredited Home Care echoes this view and is happy to offer pointers to help people deal with the potential problems from fireworks, whether it’s on Independence Day, New Year’s Eve, or other holidays or special occasions where people like to celebrate with loud noise and bright displays.
Most of us know that many combat veterans dislike the sights and sounds of fireworks. To some, it may bring back unpleasant memories of wartime or create dangerous flashbacks. Pets also have a difficult time with unexpected sights and sounds.
Some people suffering from dementia may also not like the sounds. The unexpected booms and pops can startle them and make them nervous, especially the longer they go on.
An extended firework show could be quite difficult, especially if it ends with a noisy finale.
Even if there’s no large-scale show near them, there still may be large and small fireworks in the neighborhood.
In some communities, people start lighting them off days or weeks before the Fourth, which could cause anxiety to continue and disrupt sleep, leading to other medical problems.
Even worse, since some fireworks shows take place in the evening, it could aggravate what’s called “Sundowners Syndrome,” a general term for how some people with dementia tend to become more aggressive, confused, or agitated after the sunsets.
Caregivers are told that creating calm, relaxing environments with similar routines can reduce some of these symptoms.
However, fireworks do the opposite of this. They offer bright flashes and loud, random pops that could come as a surprise to someone who isn’t expecting them.
How to help
The good thing about scheduled holidays like Independence Day is that you can plan ahead to make sure clients and caregivers are as ready as possible. It still may be a difficult day or a period of days, but thinking about how to create a relaxing environment ahead of time can help.
Some strategies can include:
- Get out of town. Depending on how well your client does at traveling in their current condition, you can plan a day trip or a longer road trip. If the day trip is your option, plan so the afternoon can be spent at your destination and you get back past the time of fireworks. Odds are the passengers will sleep through them and not be disturbed. If a longer road trip is the plan, drive somewhere where fireworks aren’t as present, especially public shows. While a busy downtown city spot might not have a big firework show, it might still have distracting noise and lights, so may not be as peaceful as, say, a bed and breakfast in the country would offer.
- Look for ways to block the sound. Anything that generates white noise can be useful including fans, TV static, or mobile phone ‘sleep’ apps that make water sounds. Modern sound-dampening headphones also could be useful. Some models aren’t just designed to block out outside sound but create “neutral sound” so the wearer hears even less. Playing soft music can work too.
- Create a relaxing night with friends. Having a few supportive people around can be nicely distracting. It also can help ease some anxiety and discomfort, and change everyone’s focus away from dreading future noise. Having conversations, playing games, or watching movies can help block some of the outside sounds.
- Refrain from fireworks. Although some families do like to light ‘safe and sane’ fireworks in the yard or driveway, these also might be noisy and scary to residents living there. It may even cause panic if someone thinks there’s an actual fire. Encourage people who like to play with these to refrain this year or go elsewhere.
- Look for other ways to enjoy the Fourth, if someone is aware of their surroundings and what’s happening but doesn’t like the sounds. Maybe watch fireworks on TV, or drive to a scenic overlook above town where you can still see the show but stay safe in your car. This also can give you a chance to play some music. If they have the energy to see a show in person, find a place on the edge where you can leave faster if anxiety levels change. This will also make it easier to leave and to get ahead of the post-show traffic jams that are stressful for everyone.
If you’re trying to learn more about the risks of fireworks, especially to those dealing with dementia, the Centers for Disease Control can be a resource. June is considered Fireworks Safety Month, so there’s plenty of info about the risks to eyes, ears, and limbs, as well as those with anxieties.