Dementia can be confusing and scary, especially when it hits home.
When you care for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias, it can be easy to forget that these symptoms affect the whole family and can be especially confusing and scary for kids, those who are young and even those who are teenagers. They may feel hurt not to be remembered or scared by a grandparent’s change in behavior.
Put yourself in the child’s shoes. A family member loses the ability to remember your face, they exhibit strange behavior shifts that may be sometimes be rude or hurtful, you have conversations that can suddenly feel as though you’re chatting with a Martian – It sort of sounds like scenes from a Stephen King novel. Dementia is confusing and scary. It is important to educate your child about the disease, prepare for visits well ahead of time, and talk often about their feelings.
Alzheimer’s is a disease
It may seem like information overload, but even young children can be taught that Alzheimer’s is a disease that affects the brain. The Alzheimer’s Association has compiled a list of resources appropriate for children, that can be helpful. Try going through some of the videos together, they may help your kids better understand the disease and realize that their feelings are normal. Explain that the disease makes it hard to remember names and faces or may cause them to act differently or to feel lost or confused easily. Reassure them that Alzheimer’s is not contagious. Talk to them about how scientists are actively researching causes and treatment options.
Tips for Visiting With Someone who has Alzheimer’s or related Dementia
Have your children help plan an activity for each visit. Set expectations and a time limit in advance. Even 15 minutes together can be a good visit. While a grandparent or loved one may not remember the child’s name, they will still understand that they are cared for and appreciated and will value interaction with their friends and family.
Explain to kids ahead of time that is important not to argue with a person with Alzheimer’s and that it is okay to ask for help if they are unsure of what to do or if they feel intimidated. Communicating with others can be difficult or frustrating for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia and for those communicating with them. Remember to relax, smile, and speak clearly.
Often children will want to know how they can help. Let them know that just the simple act of visiting with their loved one is a wonderful way to help. The truth is, visiting with kids can be very beneficial for someone with dementia. It’s not uncommon for a person with dementia to appear happier and more engaged after a child enters the room. Time with children can also have a positive effect on mood and motivation. Many assisted living communities and memory support residences will have regular intergenerational activities and programs for just this reason.
15 Activity Ideas for Your Visit
- Paint or color
- Create an art project
- Use modeling clay, kinetic sand or playdough
- Read out loud
- Look at travel and picture books
- Listen to music
- Toss a ball
- Look through photo albums
- Watch a sports game
- Brush or comb each other’s hair
- Play with dominos, blocks or legos
- Make a scrapbook
- Work on a puzzle
- Talk a walk
- Bring ingredients to prepare a light meal or snack together
Your child may express a range of emotions regarding a loved one’s Alzheimer’s symptoms. Encourage your child to talk with you about how he feels before and after a visit with your parent. Let them know it is okay to be afraid or even angry. If your child acts indifferent or ignores your parent she may be scared to interact—try watching a favorite show or video together next visit to help your child feel comfortable. Addressing your child’s feelings directly will help you work together to develop coping skills.
- How to Have a Good Visit
- An Alzheimer’s Guide for Families
- Understanding an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis
- Spiritual Care of those with Alzheimer’s and Dementia