While many in the Cedar Rapids area and elsewhere are becoming excited about events like more firework displays to enjoy, not everyone will be having a good time, especially those with dementia and their family members as well as many receiving hospice care.
The team at Above and Beyond Home Care and Hospice knows that “fireworks time” can be especially challenging for some people. While many can appreciate the visuals of beautiful pyrotechnic displays, the accompanying booms and bangs really can be jarring and disturbing, since these explosions never follow any particular rhythm, and you’re never quite sure when the show is going to end.
And when they do reach a conclusion, the “grand finale” often includes a lot of louder booms at a faster pace, which can cause even more distress since they’re all coming at once.
People dealing with certain types of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease may be confused and not know why the usual quiet evening is now full of loud noises. Community fireworks displays are also often past sundown in the summer, when most seniors are already in bed or quietly relaxing. The unexpected noises can wake them up, frighten them, and make it difficult to go back to sleep.
Evening fireworks could also aggravate a condition called “sundowner” where some people with dementia get more agitated and even aggressive in the evening before bedtime, especially when their routine is disrupted.
Further adding to the challenge could be if you live in a community where smaller-scale fireworks are sold to the public.
Instead of only dealing with one noisy fireworks show in the evening, some people may have to deal with people letting off fireworks all day or even in the weeks before the big day. They’ll essentially be dealing with pops of firecrackers or other randomly occurring explosives for days, which can vary in intensity from minor pops to larger booms. All of these can mean that they will likely have their sleep disrupted for quite a while and feel anxious as the week goes by. This could lead to other health problems and increase the possible anxiety they’re already experiencing.
How caregivers can help
Because July 4 or other occasions where fireworks are included are already on the calendar, it gives caregivers enough time to figure out ways to keep clients calm or at least figure out ways to distract them, so they’re not overwhelmed.
- Take a trip. If your neighborhood is particularly noisy, use Independence Day to go on a drive. Time it so you’ll spend the afternoon enjoying your destination, and hopefully spend “fireworks time” still in the car. If someone falls asleep, even better. You might be back later in the evening when a scheduled show is over. Or, if the senior is up for it and won’t be too upset, make an overnight visit somewhere else. Even a hotel stay in an area that doesn’t have major fireworks or a B&B in the country might be able to turn into a relaxing getaway.
- Watch a fireworks show from your car. Even if you aren’t able to travel far, consider driving to a scenic view and watch the big show. Turn up the radio and play soothing music which can muffle some of the bangs allowing you and your passengers to enjoy the visuals without the sound effects.
- Create a safe space. Find quick ways to temporarily keep clients from being distressed at their home or someone else’s. This could include DIY soundproofing by hanging bedsheets or closing windows and doors. Play mellow music in the evening.
- Host activities to take everyone’s mind off the fireworks. You may not want to have a big party, which could be anxiety-inducing, but having a few trusted people over could keep people distracted. Maybe have a favorite movie marathon or play simple games together. When the fireworks do start going off, there will be enough people around to help provide comfort and support.
- Find white noise solutions. Several fans can help cut down on fireworks sounds. Noise-canceling headphones can also block a good deal of sound.
- Talk to a provider, case manager, or home health nurse. They might be familiar with some options in your community where the sound isn’t as loud. Or a doctor may be able to prescribe some sedatives/anti-anxiety medication just for the day or surrounding days. It would be a limited prescription but just enough to help temporarily relax them.
Overall, it’s important to be flexible. If they believe they are in a good place mentally and eager to see community fireworks, figure out ways to get there and back safely. But consider being on the edge of the crowd so they’re not overwhelmed and you can leave quickly if the situation changes and they need to go home. This is preferable to being in the center of a crowd and getting caught in the crush of people walking out, followed by a traffic jam.
With June being National Fireworks Safety Month, there are lots of advisories for using them, but people with dementia may need further precautions.