Helping Children Understand Alzheimer’s
Everyone in the family is affected when a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, including children and grandchildren.
While it can be difficult for adults to adjust to the diagnosis, children may find it even harder to handle these new changes. It’s important to let them know what is going on right from the beginning so they can begin to cope with the changes in their loved one’s behavior. Sharing information should always be age appropriate, and generally “less is more.”
To help them understand, the National Institute on Aging offers these tips:
- Answer their questions simply and honestly. For example, “Grandpa has an illness that makes it hard for him to remember things.”
- Reassure them that feelings of anger and sadness are normal
- Offer comfort and reassure them that they didn’t cause the disease.
- Let them know they can still spend time with the person, talk with them and share activities like music and singing, arts and crafts, looking at photographs, taking walks together and more.
- Continue to talk with them about their concerns and feelings. Teenagers may find the changes embarrassing and not want to be around the person. Don’t force them to spend time with the person, but continue to offer an open dialogue for them to share their feelings.
- A few cautions: Don’t expect younger children to take care of or babysit their loved one. Keep their schedules the same as much as possible — such as time for homework, spending time with friends, and engaging in outside activities like sports. Continue to spend time with them, so that all of the family focus isn’t on the person with Alzheimer’s. Try to speak honestly about your feelings, but only share what is appropriate for their age without overwhelming them.
Alzheimer’s Association — www.alz.org
National Institute on Aging — www.nia.nih.gov
Mary Bates, MS, CT, is a Certified Dementia Practitioner. She is the Assisted Living and Memory Care Director of Summit by Morrison.
Through this column, Mary will share the experience, knowledge, and resources she and her team rely on, anticipating that it will be useful for anyone living with, caring for, or coming into contact with a person with dementia. Send your questions to Understanding Dementia at Summit, 56 Summit Drive, Whitefield, NH 03598 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.