Have you had to explain to a child or teen that their grandparent, or someone close to them, has Alzheimer’s disease or other type of dementia? It can be a difficult subject to discuss and understand at a young age. Here are some things to consider when helping a child or teen understand and continue being involved in the life of their loved one with dementia.
Always consider the relationship the child has with this loved one. What kind of bond do they have? Are they close? The relationship between grandparent and grandchild can be affected if the grandparent develops a form of dementia. It is important to help the child understand that the moods, words, and “strange” behavior are in no way being caused by the child. It can be helpful to explain what dementia is at the child’s level of understanding.
Understand that your child may express some feelings while they are working through the process of understanding and accepting what is going on. They may feel embarrassed, confused, sad, uncomfortable, or even curious about what is happening to their loved one. Help by validating their feelings and letting them know that it is normal to feel that way. Also understand that your child may not openly share their feelings with you and you may notice a change in behavior such as difficulty at school, trouble with friends, acting out, etc. When your child asks questions, answer them honestly and keep open communication.
It can be very beneficial for both the child and the loved one with dementia to continue doing fun activities together. This can ease tension and help the child understand that their loved one is still the same person and can continue to have a relationship with them. This interaction can also be beneficial for the person with dementia because it can keep them active and help keep their minds engaged. Some examples of fun and interactive activities include: baking a familiar recipe, completing an art project, reading a book, looking through and reminiscing about photos in an album, doing a simple puzzle, etc.
Overall, the most important thing to remember is to be supportive and keep open communication with the child about both their questions and their feelings. Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias take a toll on the whole family, so remember to be supportive, understanding, and kind to both yourself and your family members.