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Thursday, 08 November 2018 11:01
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Talking to Kids About Alzheimer's Disease

Hearing that your parent or loved one was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease can be devastating. Maybe you've already lived through a loved one's battle with the disease, or maybe you've just read about its affects. You may have hundreds of questions and concerns about the illness and how it will affect your loved one's life. But if you have children, you need to think about them too. 

Children and teens are observant, and they will notice that Grandma just isn't herself anymore. She'll suddenly and without warning get confused, maybe irrational, and sometimes even angry. This unpredictable and out-of-character behavior can be confusing and frightening for kids who don't know what's going on. 

Talking to your children about their grandparent's disease may be tough, but it's a conversation you should have, especially if the sick person lives with you or you see them often. Here are some tips to help you talk to your kids about their grandparent's new reality.

For Very Young Kids

To small children, "being sick" means having a cold or a fever. They can't understand how someone can look completely healthy and still be stick. For very young children, approximately ages 3 – 5, a simple explanation will work just fine. You can say something like "Grandpa is having trouble with his memory" and repeat as needed. 

You may want to read some picture books about Alzheimer's disease, to jumpstart a conversation with your pre-schooler. Some excellent books are Striped Shirts and Flowered Pants: A Story About Alzheimer's Disease for Young Children by Barbara Schnurbush and What's Happening To Grandpa? By Maria Shriver

For Grade-School Kids

Older children can understand the concept of a brain disorder. Name the disease, and explain what it is in words they can understand. Children in elementary school already know the importance of the brain and memory. They can understand the following explanation: "Grandpa has Alzheimer's disease, which means his brain is sick. The disease is causing his brain to change and forget things. Sometimes these changes make him feel confused or angry. Sometimes he'll do things he doesn't say or mean. It's because of the disease. It's not your fault."

For Teenagers

Teenagers might understand the phsyiological causes of Alzheimer's disease, but they may have a harder time accepting the changes in their loved ones. If their grandparent with Alzheimer's live with them, they may be embarrassed to have friends over. They may not want to be around their loved one with Alzhiemer's because it makes them feel uncomfortable. Don't force them to spend time with their ill grandparent. Encourage them to write down memories or collect trinkets from when their grandparent was healthy, to have and cherish forever.

General Tips

Be open and honest. If it fits your family's communication style, you may want to call a family meeting and explain the changes your parent or loved one is going through. Do your research beforehand to answer any questions your children may have. 

You don't need to mention the terminal nature of Alzheimer's unless your child asks. Once they ask, it's harmful to tell them everything will be okay, or that Grandma will recover. Admit to your child that nobody has ever survived Alzheimer's disease, and that Grandpa's condition will get a lot worse. Acknowledge their scared or sad feelings, and share some of your own feelings as well.

It's important to show your kids that they can still enjoy visits with their loved one. You can encourage them to do simple arts and crafts projects with their loved ones, look through photo albums, play music and sign, or read stories together.

A diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease can bring many challenges and changes to families, but leaving your kids' fears and questions unacknowledged doesn't have to be one of them. Talking about Alzheimer's disease to your children on their level and with honesty can help the entire family cope better with the disease.



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The Regency Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers and Facilities throughout New Jersey have achieved numerous industry ‘gold standard’ benchmarks and have received accolades from all corners of the HealthCare community.

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