Understanding Alzheimer’s disease is challenging for people of all ages. For children, the disease can be downright confusing and difficult to accept.
In efforts to protect their children, parents often avoid talking about a grandparent’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. This usually backfires and causes their children more harm in the long run.
Here are a few things that can happen when parents don’t open up to their children about their grandparent’s illness:
- Children mistakenly think they did something wrong.
- They blame themselves for their grandparent’s behavior.
- They sense something is wrong, but their concerns are never validated.
- They are embarrassed about their grandparent’s behavior.
Here are a few tips for talking to young children about Alzheimer’s disease.
7 Tips for Talking with Young Children about a Grandparent’s Alzheimer’s
- Do your research.
Before you talk to your children, take the time to learn about the disease. This will prepare you to explain the disease to your kids and answer their questions.
Being able to discuss the situation will help reassure your children that you have everything under control.
- Make it simple.
Explain to your children what is going on with their grandparents in the simplest words. This will help ensure they understand.
Instead of telling them about the plaques and tangles, simplify your explanation by telling them their grandparent has a condition that makes it hard to remember things.
- Prepare them for changes.
Give examples of how their grandparents might change or point out some ways they have already changed.
Try to explain what is happening as their grandparent’s symptoms change at each stage of the disease. For example, if they are in the first stage of the disease, you may say something like, “You may have noticed grandma forgets things more often. Her disease is going to make her forgetful.”
As the disease progresses, you may find yourself saying something like, “You may have noticed grandpa gets frustrated more easily. It has nothing to do with you; his illness makes him grumpy sometimes.”
- Validate their feelings.
It’s normal for children to become sad or angry that their grandparents are sick. It can be even more devastating when their grandparents forget who they are. Let children know that these feelings are normal, and that you, too, are upset about the disease.
- Assure them that it’s not their fault.
When kids don’t understand the illness, they may blame themselves. Reassure them that they did not cause their grandparent’s Alzheimer’s disease. Let them know there isn’t anything they could have done to prevent it.
- Let them know it’s nothing to be embarrassed about.
Children often become embarrassed about their grandparent’s behavior. Let them know that the disease is making their grandparent act that way; it’s not their true personality.
- Encourage them to ask questions.
During the conversation, give your children the opportunity to ask questions about Alzheimer’s disease. Answer as many as it takes for them to understand.
Also, encourage them to ask questions about their grandparent’s behavior. This will help them become more comfortable with the topic.
Difficult Conversations Are Often the Most Important
Like most important conversations, talking to children about their grandparent’s Alzheimer’s disease is important. The closer their relationship is with their grandparent, the more the diagnosis is going to affect them. Opening up to your children about the disease can allow them to deal with their grandparent’s illness in a healthier way.
Memory Care at Heritage Senior Communities
At Heritage Senior Communities, we know how difficult it is to care for a loved one while caring for young children of your own. Many of our communities have dedicated memory programs for adults with dementia, including Alzheimer’s’ disease. Contact us to learn more about our specialized dementia care.