My young children do not understand why their grandmother no longer recognizes them or knows their name. How can I explain to them about Alzheimer’s disease and how to relate to their grandmother?
Just as Alzheimer’s disease is unique in each affected individual, so are your children when it comes to discussions about the illness. What you say to them and how you explain the disease process to them depends on their age, their level of comprehension and developmental skills.
Young children will not understand the biology of the disease, so be simplistic in your terms. For instance, talk about illnesses with which they are familiar, such as chicken pox or measles.
Explain that while these illnesses have physical signs, Alzheimer’s is a sickness in the brain that no one can see. Add that with this illness, the brain makes grandma forget or sometimes get angry, but reassure the child that she doesn’t mean to act that way.
With older children, don’t get overly technical. They need more of an understanding of how to respond and communicate, than complicated discussions on the process of the disease.
Show them ways they can talk to their grandmother and enjoy her company, like looking at photo albums or putting together a puzzle.
Your children will embrace their grandmother’s illness in their own ways, on their own terms and in their own time. They all will cope differently with the situation. Reassure them that though grandma forgets, she has not lost her capacity to love them.
Your explanation of Alzheimer’s, given the span of the disease, could become an ongoing process with your children rather than a one-time discussion.
Be sure to acknowledge any feelings or fears your children may have as they witness the progression of the disease. Allow them to talk openly about them.
Keep in mind that younger children may feel their security is threatened. They may worry their parents or they themselves will get the illness. Constant reassurance and support is needed
Overall, share the caregiving responsibilities with your children. Give them specific tasks in caring for their grandma, such as reading to her, helping her fold clothes or assisting her with meals.
Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia disorder? Contact Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, Director of Services at Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area, (225) 334-7494, firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.