Talking to Children About Dementia
By Kristi Beck
Holidays are a time for reconnecting with loved ones. For those with Alzheimer’s Disease or other types of dementia, it may be disorienting to be taken out of a familiar setting—especially if they are now living in a care community. Holiday gatherings can look a little different as multiple generations visit the actual community, versus taking a loved one home for the holiday.
One missed opportunity that I have seen over the years is not preparing children before they visit a grandparent or older adult living with dementia. Parents might think if you don’t discuss this painful disease, you’re protecting your children or that certain behavior can be dismissed as “old age” or forgetfulness. Parents may forget that children will be observing other residents, in addition to the one they are visiting, and those residents will be drawn to their joy and energy.
Remember that children are very insightful and curious. They will ask questions and worry when a grandparent’s behavior changes or when he or she seems absent from their lives. Children might feel nervous around the older adult, especially if he or she is having trouble remembering names or can no longer take care of him or herself the way they once did.
Some suggestions for preparing a child for a visit:
- Be honest and explain the disease. Let them know that Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia does not affect kids and it mostly happens to people over 65 years old. Scientists have discovered medicines that seem to slow the disease down and there’s hope that someday there will be a cure. Age-appropriate information, explaining the disease can be found on such sites as https://kids.alzheimersresearchuk.org/young-kids/
- Encourage children to “go with the flow.” The older adult or grandparent may have an altered sense of reality and arguing or trying to correct him or her might lead to more confusion or agitation. For example, “Grandma sometimes calls me mother.” Explain to children it’s an opportunity to pretend or use their imaginations, but not to argue.
- Prepare ahead of time for “taboo” topics. If you are aware of a particular item of discussion that will elicit emotions, explain it before the visit. “Aunt May gets sad when we talk about her dog Taffy who lives with us.” “Grandpop wasn’t safe driving, so we told him his car is getting fixed at the shop, so he isn’t worried every day.”
Consider meeting in the lobby area or reserving a private dining area for your holiday visit. The Village at Sydney Creek has plenty of space for meeting one-on-one with a resident, including our lobby with fireplace, family room, Activity Room, conference room or one of our lush garden spaces.
Contact Sydney Creek at 805-543-2350 if you are interested in having a staff member visit your child’s schools or club to explain more about Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia.
“About my Grandfather, About My Grandmother” an online video produced by the Alzheimer’s Association
“Really and Truly,” by Emilie Rivard
“Grandma and Me: A Kid’s Guide for Alzheimer’s and Dementia,” by Mary Ann Drummond and Beatrice Tauber Prior
On a lighter note: “Why Did Grandma Put Her Underwear In The Refrigerator?” Max Wallack, Carolyn Given