In Their World at Halloween Time

Halloween can be a fun time of year for children and teenagers to dress up as their favorite characters, attend parties, go trick or treating, and eat lots of candy. Heck, even adults may partake as well. However, for those with progressing dementia, Halloween time can be quite scary, increasing unproductive and negative behavioral expressions. But why?

Within the Dementia Connection Model©, a cognitive-behavioral approach to dementia care, the first pillar is the theory of Retrogenesis, which explains that as the disease is progressing, the person’s skills are reverting back towards infancy. Skills include taking care of their independent activities of daily living (IADLs) and ADLs, their emotional intelligence, memories, communication abilities, and more. Dr. Barry Resiberg found in his research of this theory that those living with dementia who are in their later parts of the moderate phase and in late stage are developmentally the ages of 7 years old to 4 weeks old. 

Now put yourself in the shoes of a 5-year old or 3-year old. They get scared when seeing evil costumes, darkness, scary sounds, etc. Therefore, people who have later-stage dementia may also experience this fear. When they experience fear, they then show this in their behaviors, causing unproductive or negative behaviors in order to protect themselves. 

Simply put, when a person with dementia is stimulated using their senses, that information is processed either directly or indirectly in the limbic system of their brain that houses the amygdala (feelings) and hippocampus (memories). Therefore, when negative experiences occur, this will cause them to feel negative feelings, memories, and unproductive and/or negative behavioral expressions, like aggression or wandering. However, positive stimuli will promote positive feelings and memories then positive behavioral expressions. And when the caregiver is the one providing these positive experiences, the person with dementia will either connect or re-connect with them because they like how they feel with that person. 

So, some positive stimuli that can be used around Halloween time are the following:

  1. Olfactory – diffuse a cinnamon essential oil that can help uplift the mood and provide that nice fall scent.
  2. Gustatory – have on hand a handful of their favorite candies and give it to them in moderation (taking into account their current recommended diet).
  3. Visual – reminisce with pictures of Halloween events or play relaxing scenes of leaves falling from the trees or taking a walk in the Autumn woods. Decorate with fun, not scary decorations, and avoid costumes, or at least the scary ones.
  4. Auditory – play their favorite holiday music they enjoy rather than scary sounds, loud bangs, and screams often on Halloween recordings.
  5. Tactile – have them partake in making fun decorations or engage them in a Halloween game where they are also using their cognitive skills.

In conclusion, the holidays are around the corner, and it’s best to plan ahead when you care for those living with dementia. They deserve to enjoy the holidays just like you and I. Therefore, when using the Dementia Connection Model, you can put yourself in their shoes to understand their experience, and then provide positive stimuli that would promote positive feelings, memories, and behavioral expressions.

At the Dementia Connection Institute, we are always striving to educate caregivers and professionals to fill their toolbox with lots of tools to be prepared when caring for those living with dementia. Become trained in the Dementia Connection Model through the Dementia Connection Specialist Certification Program or help us spread the love of dementia education by becoming a Trainer. Learn more at

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Dr. Jennifer Stelter
Dr. Jennifer Stelter, also known as The Oil Doctor, Psy.D., is a Clinical Psychologist and Johns Hopkins Press author, who specializes in dementia care. She has 20 years experience in the healthcare field and over a dozen in the senior living industry. She is a Certified Dementia Practitioner and Certified Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia Care Trainer through the National Council for Certified Dementia Practitioners.
Additionally, she is the CEO of NeuroEssence, LLC at the Dementia Connection Institute and the creator of the Dementia Connection Model(c). Also, she is the author of The Busy Caregiver’s Guide to Advanced Alzheimer Disease. At the Dementia Connection Institute, we provide training and education on dementia care to professionals and family caregivers with a heavy focus on ‘prescribing’ with non-pharmacological interventions and engagement and empowering care providers to do the same. The vision is that those living with dementia will be able to experience and navigate their new world freely because caregivers and professionals feel better educated, prepared, and empowered in how to provide quality dementia care. We are now open! Visit us at
Jessica Ryan
Jessica Ryan is a university educated Biologist and Educator, a Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP) through the National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners (NCCDP), an AromaTouch® Technique Trainer certified by Dr. Hill, a top doTERRA Wellness Advocate, and a founder and co-creator of AromaTechniques an aromatherapy and hand massage technique specific to the “vintage” population. She is the CEO of The Oil Mama, LLC, and co-founder and co-owner of NeuroEssence, LLC. She has 25+ years of experience in education and the sciences from high school to university and professional level. Over the last 10 years she has committed to staying on the forefront of evidence- based essential oil uses and educating individuals and families on reducing toxic load and increasing cellular nourishment as the key to healthy mind and body at any age. She has pioneered a specialization in working with the “vintage” population, healthcare professionals, and caregivers to educate them on the usage of therapeutic essential oils for longevity and quality of life as it relates to the Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and brain health.
Jessica regularly leads workshops and offers valuable and continued support through her various resources and one-on-one consultations. She also offers additional services to healthcare and residential facilities as related to the “vintage” population including caregiver and continuing education, hospice tools, and customized community wellness plans.