Planning Ahead for Fireworks Anxiety

Despite the cancellation of many large gatherings to celebrate Canada Day and the Fourth of July, fireworks will continue to fill the skies this week as families and friends gather (hopefully in small groups) to commemorate the holidays.  But all the loud noises can be very unsettling, not only for pets but also for people who experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or those with dementia.  

It is not uncommon for the sights, sounds, and even the smell of fireworks to trigger traumatic memories from service in the military or witnessing gun violence.  According to the University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry,  the loud and unpredictable noise of fireworks can activate the sympathetic nervous system, causing people with PTSD to become highly alert to movement or other signs of danger, experience nightmares or insomnia, have mood changes, avoid social interaction or have flashbacks about the traumatic events.  

Older adults with dementia may also experience some of these symptoms and people with a history of anxiety or depression may be more likely to feel anxious, depressed, angry, or fearful during the fireworks season.   Caregivers can help ease the stress of nearby fireworks displays by asking neighbors if they plan to set off fireworks.  Using noise-reducing headphones to listen to music or closing blackout curtains may help people with PTSD or dementia cope better with fireworks. 

Even without the crowds this year, the sounds of fireworks late at night can be upsetting for people with dementia, creating fear and confusion and worsening common evening symptoms of agitation. If possible, have someone stay with seniors who have dementia on nights fireworks are planned; distractions like doing a puzzle, watching a movie, working on a craft project or listening to an audiobook through headphones may be helpful.   Keep decorations simple and find simpler ways to enjoy the holiday like baking and decorating cupcakes or lighting sparklers earlier in the evening before the loud sounds begin.  

Learn more about fireworks etiquette by following this link to an informational post by the University of New Hampshire’s Military and Veteran Services.