Helping Children Understand Alzheimer’s
Your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The first thing you want to do is find out all you can about the disease, and what you can do to take care of your loved one. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but, at least you’re an adult and you can understand what’s happening. What about your children? How can you help them cope?
The way in which Alzheimer’s may affect children has to do largely with their relationship with the person before. If they are close to the loved one, the mentally debilitating illness could cause fear, anger, sadness, and confusion. If the loved one is living in the home of the caregiver, it can cause these feelings to intensify.
Fear is usually the first emotion to surface. From the fear of their grandparent or other loved one arises feelings of anger, guilt, and jealousy. All of these feelings can lead to sadness and even depression. Also, feelings of despair and helplessness may result from the loss of the loving relationship between the child and loved one.
Keep It Real
The best thing you can do for your child or teenager is to be completely honest and keep the lines of communication open. If children don’t understand, they could act out by doing badly in school, withdrawing or becoming impatient with their loved one. Physical or psychosomatic ailments such as stomachaches or headaches may manifest themselves as well. They may have to be reminded several times that Alzheimer’s is a disease, and the disease is what’s affecting grandma or grandpa.
It is helpful to have answers ready for an inquisitive child’s difficult questions. The following questions are just the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a start.
Q – Is grandma crazy?
A – No. Alzheimer’s is a disease. Older adults are prone to illnesses that may make them forget things or act differently.
Q – Is it my fault?
A – Certainly not. If grandma told you that, it is just the disease talking.
Q – Can I, or my mom or dad, catch Alzheimer’s disease?
A – Alzheimer’s is not contagious, so, no, you can’t catch it like you would a cold.
Q – What will happen next?
A – Here the parent must judge how much information children can handle. The best thing to do is reassure them that you will continue to love Grandpop no matter what happens.
With teenagers the questions will probably be a bit more complicated. They can see things from different perspectives. The best thing to do is to inquire about how they’re feeling, and what can be done to make them feel better.
Regardless of the age of the child, open communication is the key to success in weathering the Alzheimer’s storm.
Lois Young-Tulin, PhD, is an Assistant Geriatric Care Manager at Complete Care Strategies