How to discuss Alzheimer’s and dementia with your children

By | June 17, 2016 | Health & Wellness

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How to discuss Alzheimer’s and dementia with your children |The Momiverse | Article by Toby Haberkorn

It’s time to talk to your children about Grandma (who’s been acting strangely). Grandma has Alzheimer’s. You might think if you don’t discuss this painful disease, you’re protecting your children. You know better. Trying to protect children from life’s grim truths is a tough job in today’s world and probably not possible. In reality, children are very observant and worry when a grandparent’s behavior changes or she seems to have disappeared from their lives. With age appropriate information, children become empowered and learn the importance of family and compassion.

Your children may be worried because they don’t understand Grandma’s behavior. Prepare for this important talk.

1.   Find age appropriate resources.

Do your research. Look for children’s books that sensitively explore Grandma’s changing behavior and the family’s response. These books provide conversational openings for parents to discuss Alzheimer’s with their children in a non-scary way.

2.   Start a discussion.

Sit on the sofa or at the table with no other distractions. Hug your children and start the discussion by reading a simple book such as When My Grammy Forgets, I Remember: A Child’s Perspective on Dementia. At various points in the book, observe your children’s reactions to this grandchild’s story. Discuss Grandma’s strange behavior. Explain how Grandma is not well and this behavior is due to being sick. Explore the grandchild’s changing relationship with her grandmother and discuss compassion.

3.   Address feelings, questions, and worries.

My grandmother is very sick. Will I catch it? Will my parents catch it? My grandmother no longer lives in her house. Will we have to leave our house, too? My grandmother is different now. Does she still love me?

These are some of the thoughts that can run through children’s minds. Discuss each worry and explain in simple terms Grandma’s illness and the family’s response. Emphasize that Grandma continues to love her grandchildren even if she forgets names and relationships.

4.   Emphasize love and compassion.

Remind your children of how Grandma used to be when she was healthy. Explain that even if Grandma cannot say so, she feels her grandchildren’s love and is comforted. Children frequently are more flexible and more accepting of Alzheimer’s than their parents who usually have a harder time accepting the reality of an impaired parent. Children usually are able to live in the moment with the grandparent and are not judgmental.

5.   Connect with Grandma.

Whether Grandma is at home or a facility, grandchildren can share activities that provide comfort. Small activities can be soothing for both Grandma and grandchildren:

  • Hold Grandma’s hand
  • Talk to Grandma about pleasant current and past family activities
  • Read out loud her favorite books and poems
  • Listen to music together from Grandma’s past
  • If permissible, bring a familiar pet to see Grandma

By including your children in the family discussion about Alzheimer’s, you can encourage them to become compassionate and provide comfort to a grandparent.

For more information about how to talk with kids and teens about Alzheimer’s and dementia, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website.

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Toby Haberkorn

Toby Haberkorn has enjoyed a varied career and now pursues her passion for writing books that promote family discussions about difficult issues. She is the author of two books. When My Grammy Forgets, I Remember: A Child’s Perspective on Dementia explores the bittersweet changing relationship between a young granddaughter and her grandmother who has dementia. This book is posted on the Children’s Resource Book list on the national Alzheimer's Association and National Institutes of Health (NIH) Aging websites. Bye-Bye Moon is a bedtime story which delights children who fuss about going to bed and the parents who tuck them in.

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