Special Note to Parents and Teachers
There are a number of factors that determine how a child will respond to a relative with Alzheimer's disease, whether or not the patient is living in the same home as the child, and the child's age. Young chilren often form a special, loving relationship with a confused or forgetful grandparent, patiently taking them for walks, playing simple games, or singing together. Older children and teenagers may be embarrassed by the Alzheimer's patient's unsual behavior. This is particularly true if they think their friends won't understand.
Despite their specific circumstances, all children need a change to express their feelings, which are likely to reflect conflicts similar to your own—sadness, anger, love, fear. Make it easy for them to talk to you by setting aside a time when they can have your undivided attention. Children also need information. A good explanation of the disease, without being too technical, is necessary if the child is to feel more comfortable with the situation. For young children, explain that their grandparent or loved one is sick, and has a disease that makes him or her confused and forgetful. Sometimes loved ones with Alzheimer's may act strange. If they lose their temper, it's because they're sick, not because they don't love the child anymore. Sometimes children wonder if a loved one's Alzheimer's disease is their fault, or they may wonder if the disease is contagious. Although Alzheimer's disease can strike people in the 40s and 50s, those cases are rare. The disease most often affects people over the age of 65, and is not contagious. Gently and carefully exploring the child's feelings will help bring these worries to the surface so they can be laid to rest.
Don't try to shelter children from the decision-making process. Having a grandparent with Alzheimer's come to live with them will change their lives, perhsaps making it necessary to play more quietly or move bedrooms and furniture around. Putting a grandparent in a nursing home may mean there is less money available for summer trips. Children realize that their parents will make the final decisions, but they need to know that their own feelings matter and will be taken into account.
And finally, because dealing with Alzheimer's is so difficult, it's easy to forget that even painful experiences can offer children opportunities to grow. Allowing children to participate in the care of a loved one with Alzheimer's can help youngsters achieve new levels of compassion and maturity. It is our hope that this story about a young girl learning to cope with her grandmother's disease will help your child understand that it's okay to feel scared or angry or confused about the implications of Alzheimer's.
We recommend that you prepare yourself for any questions your child has by reading about Alzheimer's disease on your own. The American Health Assistance Foundation offers a variety of free educational material that will increase your understanding of Alzheimer's disease. Call 1-800-437-AHAF. Also check your local public library for further resources.
This content was last updated on: Tuesday, June 23, 2015
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