Kids are diligent observers of change. They notice when something is out of the ordinary with their loved ones or in their environment. And noticing changes with their grandparents is no exception.
Alzheimer’s disease is one such disease that results in dramatic changes in the brain. When a child notices changes in their grandma or grandpa, it’s important to address the changes head on. Since Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive disease, changes increase and worsen. Memory problems usually are first the manifest, then more cognitive decline, such as problems reasoning and spatial/vision issues. These symptoms become more severe over time.Symptoms such as these are usually in the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. (From the National Institute on Aging)
- Memory loss
- Poor judgment leading to bad decisions
- Loss of spontaneity and initiative
- Taking longer to complete normal daily tasks
- Repeating questions
- Trouble with money and bills
- Wandering and getting lost
- Losing things in odd places
- Mood and personality changes
- Increased anxiety and/or aggression
Talking with children about Alzheimer’s disease before the disease is present in the family is also helpful if they experience it in a more personal way later on. But if they are unaware of the disease, it’s best to talk with young children when the disease is in its early stages.
Ideas for Talking to Children about Alzheimer’s Disease
- For young children, sometimes it’s best to start with a book.
- Be clear and Simple.
- In attempt to console their children, parents often say too much. This ends up sounding and feeling confusing.
- Avoid confusing young children by speaking simply and directly. Explain what the disease is in terms understandable to them.
- Explain that changes in their grandparents’ behavior is caused by the disease and a sickness, not their healthy self.
- Concerns are normal; let them know that.
- A child may have many concerns at first. They may exhibit sadness or confusion, be worried about who else develop the disease, or may become embarrassed. It’s important to offer continual support and reassurance to a child.
- Let them know their grandparents will be well taken care of, whether by family or caregiver services.
- Increase family time.
- Spending more time with family and grandparents will assure a child that time will adjust and things will maintain a good deal of ‘normalcy’.
- Reassure child they will continue being a family and everyone will maintain their relationship with their grandparents.
- Help kids and grandparents engage in simple activities together to maintain time together.
- Openly communicate with kids.
- Answer their questions honestly.
- They should have a general sense of what may happen but not be overloaded with worrisome details entailing the worst possible scenario.
- Talking with children about Alzheimer’s disease is an ongoing process, it takes time to process.
- Get Involved.
- Instead of shying away from the disease in general, get the family involved in Alzheimer’s Awareness.
- Sign up for walks for Alzheimer’s and research ways to raise Alzheimer’s Awareness in your area.