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"What's Up With Grandma?" Explaining Alzheimer's & Dementia to Young Children

August 19, 2016

Words alone can’t describe the difficulty a family goes through when a loved one succumbs to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. It’s hard seeing your parent’s slow but inexorable transformation into someone very different.  But young children are often the most confused, and frightened.  Why can’t their grandpa remember who they are? And why are they acting strange? Explaining these diseases to a child is difficult, but not impossible. Here are some ways you can explain to your child what Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are and what’s going to happen to their grandma or grandpa:

1) Talk to them:  Children are smarter than we think.  Don’t try to “protect them” by hiding what’s happening.  Sit down with them and have a meaningful conversation about their grandparent. Answer any questions they have about Grandma or Grandpa’s unusual behavior and sayings.  Ask questions! Find out more about their perspective and if they feel any different about their grandparent, especially if your parent did or said something that unintentionally hurt your child’s feelings.

2) Explain the circumstances as simply as possible: Don’t try to offer deep explanations or clinical instructions. Instead, use simple terms.  “Grandpa has an illness that sometime comes with old age that makes him forget things.”  “Grandma’s illness sometimes make think she’s in a different place”.  Your child will not get it right away, but they usually accept the simple explanations, and they will question you further when they are ready to hear more. Try to be patient and provide as much reassurance as you can. As your child grows, you can provide more specific details about the diseases.

3) Be positive: As tough as it is to care for a parent whose is living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, keep smiling for the sake of your child. If the child sees that you’re still smiling and positive, they’ll be reassured that they don’t have anything to be worried about either.  

4) Involve them: Every circumstance is different. If your parent’s Alzheimer’s or dementia isn’t too severe, you should still have your children spend time with them or involve them in their care, even if it’s just sitting and talking with their grandparent. If your parent lives in a nursing home or assisted living facility, take your children with you for your next visit. A simple walk, chat, or game can go a long way in make sure that your child still has a good relationship with their grandparent.  It will lift your parent’s spirits, and yours as well. 

It can be stressful making sure your parent is getting the treatment and the attention they need for their Alzheimer’s or dementia. Centers Health Care has several facilities with specific programs for those that have Alzheimer’s or dementia. Contact us today for more information. We’ll do all that we can to help you and your parent.

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