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Helping Children Understand Dementia


Dementia is a mental disease that is far-reaching and can affect the entire family, including children and grandchildren. For kids, seeing their grandparents suffer from a cognitive decline can be very confusing and upsetting. Although the senior affected by dementia requires as much support as possible, grandchildren also need to understand how this disease affects others so they can learn how to handle these changes. It is important that parents communicate with their children about the changes so that they are better prepared for the different ways that their grandparent might behave or act.

Typical reactions from children about Dementia

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are many ways that your children may react to dementia, including:

  • Become frustrated by having to repeat words or phrases
  • Become embarrassed to have friends or visitors over
  • Grow jealous because of the time and attention the loved one is getting from the caregiver
  • Develop confusion about why their grandparent is acting strange or different
  • Become sad because their loved one is changing
  • Experience guilt about resenting the extra time and resources given for your loved one
  • Feel awkward or unsure about how to act around their loved one
  • Feel sad because their grandparent doesn’t recognize them
  • Become fearful of their loved one

As a parent, you need to know that all of these actions are completely normal. These reactions are all typical ways for a child or teen to understand a very complex condition with someone they have loved. Depending on the child’s temperament, he or she will react in a variety of ways. Some may withdraw from others. Others will experience physical pain as a result of the anxiety, such as stomachaches or headaches. Arguments may also arise with teenagers, especially with parents who are devoting a lot of their time as caregivers.

How to explain Alzheimer’s and dementia to a child

From the beginning, it is important to explain to young children what to expect and how to react to their grandparent’s mental decline. According to Today’s Parent, one way is to compare Alzheimer’s to a common illness that they might have experienced. Ask your child “Do you remember having a fever or cough when you had the flu?” Then simply explain, “Just like your body was sick during that time, Grandma’s brain is sick.” This can give them a concrete and simple explanation about the illness. You should also tell them that even though their grandparent’s cognitive ability might be in decline, Grandma still recognizes love and affection, even if it is just felt in the moment.

One way your child can continue to bond with his or her grandparent is to share activities that they have always enjoyed together. For instance, if Grandpa loves music, have your child play his favorite songs and sing along with them, or if he had a green thumb, suggest that the two of them plant a garden together to create more memories. If your loved one was a great cook, have your child tie on an apron and help cook dinner.

If your young children ask questions about Alzheimer’s or dementia, it is important that you answer in an honest, age-appropriate way. Sugar-coating the message will only complicate things more for them. Kids have very intuitive minds and can understand and observe complex situations more than we realize. Be honest about what is happening to their grandparent. 

There are several children’s books that are excellent for young children that are trying to better understand cognitive decline, including:

  • “Saturdays with GG” by Dwayne J. Clark
  • “Always My Grandpa: A Story for Children About Alzheimer’s Disease” by Dr. Linda Scacco
  • “My New Granny” by Elisabeth Steinkellner
  • “Do You Have a Moon at Your House?” by Jeanie L. Johnson

 

Thank you to www.act.alz.org and www.aegisliving.com for the information in this article.

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