Alzheimer’s can be baffling to anyone, but for young children and even teens it can be especially hard to grasp all that’s happening to someone who has played a central role in their lives. But because Alzheimer’s can have a profound impact on family life, it’s important to talk with your children about the disease as soon as possible and help them to understand how this disease will probably have to change the relationship they’ve previously shared with that loved one.
You should expect that your children will have a strong reaction to the news of their loved one’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. “Both the five-year-old and the fifteen-year-old are going to be alarmed and stressed, and as grandpa or grandma drifts away they’re going to face feelings of bereavement,” says Richard Powers, MD, associate professor of neurology and pathology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine and spokesman for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. “It’s important to explain that while grandpa may not remember your name, he still loves you as much as the first day he laid eyes on you, and you need to reach out to the part of the person that’s still intact.”
To choose the right words to explain a loved one’s Alzheimer diagnosis to a child, first consider their age and modify the conversation to make it age-appropriate. The following tips can help you to do just that:
Younger children – when talking to a younger child about a loved one’s diagnosis, you won’t necessarily want to use the term Alzheimer’s disease. “I recommend parents say something like, ‘Grandpa is having problems with his memory or he is unable to think as well as he used to think, so sometimes we’ll have to help him with his thinking or his remembering,’” says Barry J. Jacobs, PsyD, a psychologist, faculty member of the Crozer-Keystone Family Medicine Residency Program in Springfield, Pa., and author of The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers. You should mention that the person with Alzheimer’s will get sicker over time. Then, if your child seems to have a good grasp of what’s already been explained, you could prepare him for some of the changes he will see in the person with Alzheimer’s by going over symptoms and how to handle them appropriately.
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This article has been republished in part or full from an Age in Place Professionals member's website. Read the orignal article at the author's website >>