It’s one of my favorite times of the year.  The weather has cooled and there’s a crisp feel to the morning air.  The leaves are turning from green to mottled yellow, reddish brown and fire orange.  The days are getting shorter and the time for warming soups and hot liquids is upon us.  That can mean only one thing: Halloween is close.

I love Halloween.  It’s the perfect excuse to dress up like your favorite animal or storybook character, to eat lots of sugary treats and enjoy a good old adrenaline rush.  While the costumes are getting scarier and scarier, the candy never changes. And doling out the goodies to all the excited (over-sugared) costumed children is so much fun!  But what would Halloween be without the scare factor?

Fear of the unknown, of strange beings and unmentionable deeds can seem central to the mystique of Halloween.  Many people enjoy the rush that the seasonal scares can provide.  Why do we love the artificial thrill of horror movies and haunted houses?  Well, there are a number of theories as to why these terrifying experiences are so enjoyable but most of them harken back to a simple physiological response to stimuli: adrenaline.  Perceived scary or dangerous environments will trick our bodies into releasing a flood of adrenaline in order to help us survive against a life-threatening situation.  Adrenaline speeds up our heartbeat and heighten our senses, making us feel more “alive.”  While it can be fun, adrenaline is not a healthy experience for everyone.

While terror may seem crucial to this holiday, if you work with older adults you might want to reconsider the scary slant to Halloween.  The rapid heartbeat and pounding pulse can cause serious problems for seniors.  From making it hard to control breathing to instigating a serious heart attack, an adrenaline rush can be downright harmful and dangerous.  A well meaning scare prank could literally be fatal for sensitive people; being “scared to death” isn’t just a common colloquialism, it’s a medical possibility.

After all, there are a lot of positive indicators of this great fall holiday.   We can still celebrate the changing weather, the gorgeous riot of color exploding on the trees and the trademark gourd rather than creepy-crawly creatures!  You can even incorporate iconic Halloween images in a light way.  Here are a few game ideas for seniors to play this weekend and on Monday!

  1. Halloween Bingo – rather than BINGO, use special scorecards with rows labeled “bats,” “imp,” “night” “goblin” and “orange.”  Use candycorn as markers.
  2. Pumpkin bowling – use small palm-sized pumpkins with the stems trimmed down to knock over bowling pins decorated to look like community residents and staff.
  3. Have a cupcake walk to favorite Halloween themed songs like “Monster Mash,” “Thriller,” “Purple People Eater” and the “Ghostbusters Theme” song.  Worried about high sugar content?  Make pumpkin pastries or muffins instead!

What are other ways you can enjoy this autumn holiday without too much terror?

Thanks to Sarah Ackerman and Gerry Dincher for use of their photos!

~Laura

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