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IRC Blog

IRC Blog
Posted: Wednesday, January 29, 2020
By: IRC Blog

Helping children understand dementia

If someone in your family is living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, you know it can affect everyone differently. But when children are involved, it’s important to tailor your expectations and support to be age appropriate. You may wonder how to explain the diagnosis or help children visiting a grandparent with dementia. You’ll need to navigate these challenges so that both sides can benefit and the relationship remains.

If someone in your family is living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, you know it can affect everyone differently. But when children are involved, it’s important to tailor your expectations and support to be age appropriate. You may wonder how to explain the diagnosis or help children visiting a grandparent with dementia. You’ll need to navigate these challenges so that both sides can benefit and the relationship remains.

Children and dementia: How to help them understand

If the child and the individual who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia are close, you’ll need to explain what is happening and prepare them for the upcoming changes. But the goal is to make sure they appreciate their role and continue with the relationship. These tips can help.

  1.   Don’t rush the conversation

The level of detail and explanation will depend on the age of the children. You’ll want to keep it very simple for younger kids while teenagers may be interested in what is going on in the brain when it’s affected by Alzheimer’s.

But regardless of age, you don’t want to overwhelm with information. Allow them time to process what is happening as well as they can and plan on having several conversations. Make sure you let them know it’s OK to ask any questions.

  1.   Encourage them to maintain the relationship

Explain how important it is for them to continue to see their loved one even if things have changed. Help them understand that although their interactions might be different now, they are still loved and valued. When we don’t understand something or know how to react, fear can often step in, causing even adults to begin avoiding the situation. Help the children know they are always safe and encourage them to speak openly if they are afraid or unsure of anything.

  1. Discourage any guilt

Make sure the children don’t feel guilty. Depending on their age, it could result from different reasons. Younger kids may feel that it is somehow their fault or is caused by something they said or did. Older kids, especially teenagers, may feel guilty if they don’t want to see their loved one now or if they feel embarrassed about what they may say or do. It’s important that everyone knows this is a brain disease and is no one’s fault. Everyone’s reactions are different but guilt will only make things worse.

  1. Learn new interactions

It’s important to acknowledge that things are different now because of dementia instead of trying to pretend or force things to remain as they once were. Search for new ways the children can meaningfully interact with their loved one that makes everyone more comfortable. You’ll need to tailor this to your loved one’s abilities and the age of the child. There are still many activities that can be shared, which also takes the pressure off of making one-on-one conversation.

Activities to share together

All ideas should be adjusted to the age of the child and the way in which your loved one communicates or interacts best with others. The important goal is that the child and grandparent are still able to spend time together.

  1. Look for simple craft projects that can be done together. If your loved one can’t participate, encourage the child to draw a picture to share or that tells a favorite story.
  2. Looking at family photo albums can be a great way to relive happy times, past visits or vacations spent together. It may also spark memories for your loved one.
  3. The whole family may want to join in to create a memory book that the children can share with their grandparent or loved one. Each object can be described for the memory it holds.
  4. Reading a story together can be a calming and enjoyable activity. There are memory books that are especially easy to share with those with cognitive impairments.
  5. Watching family movies, funny videos or favorite television shows can be a relaxing way to spend time together. And any chance to laugh should never be lost.
  6. Depending on where the loved one is living, and with supervision, baking cookies or other simple desserts can appeal to all the senses while spending time together.
  7. Sharing activities can be good for both emotional and physical health. Depending on the age and abilities, taking a walk together and enjoying the fresh air can be very beneficial.

Become an all-inclusive-family

Alzheimer’s or other dementias affect the entire family. Often children are left out of conversations and plans on how to move forward. As long as these discussions are age appropriate, encourage their participation and make sure they understand that they play an important role in the family.

The impact of this disease also depends on how often the children interact with your loved one or whether they are living in the same house. There may be anger or resentment that their home life is disrupted or that your time is spent more with the individual than with them. If this occurs, you might want to consider scheduling a respite visit in order to spend more time with the children. If the stress becomes too much on the family as the disease progresses, it may be time to consider moving your loved one to a community.

Ingleside’s Memory Support Assisted Living

We understand how hard this time can be for a family, especially when you’re trying to help children accept what has happened. We’re here to help not only your loved one but the younger members of your family as well. At Ingleside’s Memory Support Assisted Living, our experience and knowledge is a resource for you all to use. 

Please call (202) 905-0018 if you have any questions or would like to schedule a personalized tour today.

 

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