What do you tell your young children when their grandma or grandpa can't remember their names? Or how much do you explain to your kids if their grandparent has suddenly had a change in personality because of Alzheimer's disease? Sadly, the changes that come with Alzheimer's can be very confusing to children. The following are ideas and strategies that you can employ to help your children better understand this disease.
Be Honest With Your Children
If your child asks you why their grandparent is suddenly acting differently, don't try to brush their questions aside. Instead, the Mayo Clinic advises that you respond honestly and in a straightforward manner. Let your children know that:
- Alzheimer's is a disease that can affect some older adults. And while their grandparent may look the same on the outside, the disease has made them forgetful and may have even changed their personality in some ways.
- You may be busy at times helping their grandparent. Explain to your children that their grandparent will probably require more care and there may be times when you will be busy taking care of their affairs.
- Their grandparent still loves them. It's important that your children understand that their grandparent still loves them even if they might forget their names or not recognize them on occasion.
Other Ways to Help Your Child Cope
If your child is still having trouble understanding how Alzheimer's affects their grandparent, you might want to consider reading children's books to them on the subject of this disease. With more than 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer's, it's not surprising that numerous books have been written for children on this subject. In addition, you should:
- Have your children continue to spend quality time with their grandparent, if possible. Try going on walks together or looking at old photographs.
- Spend time talking about the past. People with Alzheimer's disease can often remember things from their past, so going over old pictures and speaking about memories from long ago can lead to some very interesting conversations between grandparent and grandchild.
- Encourage your child to speak to you if they are confused by their grandparent's behavior. As their grandparent's disease progresses, their behavior could change significantly, which could -- in turn -- raise many questions with your child.
- Consider getting your children involved in Alzheimer's disease awareness programs. Your children may be feeling helpless as they watch the changes that their grandparent is going through and want to help. So it may be comforting to them, for example, to participate in an Alzheimer's Association walk.
If Your Child is Afraid
Alzheimer's can be very frightening to children. Some kids, for example, might be afraid that Alzheimer's disease is something they can catch by being around their grandparent. And, sadly, Alzheimer's can also cause the affected person to yell or to act violently, which could also frighten your child. That is why it's important to:
- Talk to your child if an incident occurs where their grandparent frightens them. Let them know that it is their grandparent's disease that is causing them to act strangely.
- Assure your child that Alzheimer's is not contagious. Explain that not all diseases can be transmitted from one person to another, and that it is still safe to hug their grandparent or give them a kiss.
By helping your child to understand the complex nature of Alzheimer's disease and its affects, you can hopefully help them to continue a loving relationship with their grandparent. Yes, there will be difficult days, but there will also be times when things will be just like they were before Alzheimer's disease entered your family's life. If you need more tips, you may want to work with a center or clinic that is experienced in helping and treating people with Alzheimer's and their loved ones.