“Why is Grandma acting so strange? She doesn’t remember my name.”
It may be scary and confusing for a child to see his or her grandparents acting strangely at the onset and progression of dementia. While the senior needs as much assistance as possible, it is also very important to help grandchildren understand what the condition is all about, what to expect as it progresses, and discover ways to continue a comfortable relationship with the senior loved one.
Unfortunately, explaining to children exactly what’s happening to their grandparents is no easy task. Even for adults, discussing a senior loved one’s dementia can be quite challenging and emotional. So as a caregiver and parent, how then do you break the news to the children? The following are some suggestions to help educate the children about dementia, what to expect, and how to respond.
Tell the truth
When dealing with children, you must be honest and clear without instilling fear. Don’t hide behind the pretext that Granddad isn’t feeling well for the time being or he’s just getting old. Describe dementia in words that children can understand. Otherwise, you run the risk of giving them false hope that Granddad will recover, or instilling fear that everyone, including mom and dad, may eventually have dementia later in life. Let them know that dementia is a condition in which the brain isn’t functioning at its best any longer, interfering with normal day-to-day living. This condition is why Granddad has difficulty remembering things and processing information.
Give an in-depth explanation
Be patient and detailed in your explanations when talking to young children about dementia. Enlighten them about what can sometimes cause dementia later in life. Some examples include smoking, alcohol abuse, eating unhealthy foods, lack of exercise, head trauma, etc. Helping them to understand can sometimes encourage them to lead a healthier lifestyle early on in their lives.
Remember the unpredictability of the condition
Educate your children on the fact that dementia is a highly erratic disease. Grandma may seem better today but not tomorrow. Keep your kids up-to-date as the condition worsens, so they are not too shocked when personality changes start manifesting. These changes may also necessitate the need for a professional caregiver or certified nursing assistant (CNA) for round-the-clock care to keep your loved one safe. It may be time to research Home Health Agencies.
Remind them that their grandparent is still the same person
Assure your youngsters that their grandma or any other senior loved one still loves them very much. Make them understand that while dementia can erase memories, it does not erase love. Let them know that Grandpa or Grandma isn’t at fault for his or her condition. And as a family, it’s important to be patient and compassionate at all times.
Encourage children to help when possible
Children like to feel useful, so encourage them to develop ideas on how they can help their grandparents. For instance, they can create a memory box for their grandparents or come up with shared activities. Activities like listening to music, singing, looking at photo albums, playing board games, and doing crafts together are part of caregiving that both parties can enjoy.
The ripple effect of a senior loved one being diagnosed with dementia extends to the rest of the family, including young children. Talking to them about dementia as early as possible makes it easier for them to adjust and understand the progression of this difficult part of life.