How to Explain Alzheimer’s to Your Children and Grandchildren

April 16, 2010 at 10:03 pm Leave a comment

“Grandpa has Alzheimer’s” isn’t what you want to have to tell a child, but 5 million Americans suffer from this disease and the best thing you can do as a parent–is to talk. How to explain Alzheimer’s to your children and grandchildren isn’t as big or scary as it sounds. By having a conversation and explaining clearly and simply, according to their age and comprehension, you can comfort and inform your child–and even bring your family together.

Suggestions For How to Tell a Child Under Six That Their Grandparent Has Alzheimer’s:

  • “Grandpa has a hard time remembering stuff. He might forget your name, or where he put his keys. He might forget what keys are for–that they unlock doors and start cars. They call it Alzheimer’s–that’s a big word. You know how you have to be patient with your little brother (or cousin or neighbor) and not get upset if he grabs your toy or starts to cry for no reason?  Well, we have to patient with Grandpa kind of in the same way. Remind them that even though Grandpa might not say it, he still loves you–and you love him.  Answer their questions as simple and as honest as you can. If you don’t know the answer, or wonder how to say it, ask if you can think about it.  Tell them “we have to be patient with Grandpa and pitch in when we can because that’s what families do. Can you help me do that?”

How to Tell a Child About Alzheimer’s Ages Six to Twelve:

  • Start with the conversation above, but add to it. Tell them it was named after a doctor who helped figure out what was going on. Show them pictures if they’re interested. Let them “see” what the brain is doing. Explain that older people get it, but not everyone. Explain that it’s not contagious. Explain that it does get worse over time. Tell them you’ll let them know what’s going on. You’ll explain it, answer their questions, help them figure out what to do or say. Encourage them not to avoid their elder loved one. Tell them it’s not as scary or as awful as some people think and even though they might forget who you are and even who they are, they’re still your family–and in many ways, they’re still in there. Give them the option to visit or not visit–to stay for just a few minutes, to say when they’re uncomfortable. Let them know that hanging out together isn’t difficult–you can just sit together–not talking–looking at the birds or eating ice cream. Let them find their own way.

How to Tell a Teenager a Grandparent has Alzheimer’s:

Build on the information above, but encourage them to explore for themselves. Give them the names of some websites, check out some movies or videos that approach Alzheimer’s from various perspectives. Encourage them to do a report on Alzheimer’s for school or write about it in English class, or drawing/painting/photographing a picture. Give them a journal to write down their feelings and memories. Encourage them to find ways to keep Grandpa alive–by telling his stories, asking for his tools or photos. Talk about the scary stuff. Bring it up. Share your own fears–that you’ll be forgotten, that you won’t be able to reach them anymore, that they’ll die and you never got to say the things you needed to.

Alzheimer’s can ironically bring families together. So talk about it. Kid about it. Ask questions. Ask them to pitch in. Thank them when they do. Let them off the hook when they need to flake. Accept the love and support they give you. My mother lived with my family during the last almost 3 years of her life–and she had Alzheimer’s. My teenage daughters learned about the disease, but more important, they learned about family. You’ll find that having a grandparent with Alzheimer’s isn’t about all the memories you lose–it’s also about the memories you make.

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Entry filed under: brain fitness, caring for parents, elder care, family caregiving, Uncategorized. Tags: , , , .

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This Blog

Hi, I'm Carol O'Dell. This blog will include stories and lessons I've learned while caring for my mom, and now as I speak to caregivers around the country. I hope to offer suggestions, ideas and insights that will help others.

While this blog is supported by Dakim Brain Fitness, I’m not blogging to promote the Dakim company or products. Instead, I’m writing about how caring and being cared for affects your life and your family. My hope is that this blog gives you a place to learn, reflect, gain new perspective to make it another day.

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