Alzheimer’s Disease affects the entire family.
When a grandparent, aunt or uncle, family friend or other person in a child’s life is dealing with Alzheimer’s, it can be an emotional time—and a time when the child will need your help to understand what’s happening.
Alzheimer’s Disease affects the brain, usually in people over age 65. It typically begins with memory loss—forgetting words, names of loved ones or how to get home—and progresses over time.
People with Alzheimer’s who were once loving and easygoing may become confused, irritable and angry. They may not act like the same person you’ve known.
They may ask the same questions over and over, and eventually their memories will fade and they may not remember who you are.
“One way to help kids understand is to compare it to something they’re familiar with,” said Sarah Kress, a child life specialist with the Child Life Program at Carilion Clinic. “For example, explaining that the brain is like a computer for your body, and Alzheimer’s is like when the apps aren’t working properly.”
Read on for more tips from Sarah on what you can do to help make your children more comfortable with dealing with Alzheimer's Disease:
- Do talk about it openly and honestly.
“Educating your children about what to expect makes it less scary,” said Sarah. “Encourage them to ask questions, talk about their feelings and express their concerns.”
Children may feel confused, sad, scared, frustrated, guilty, worried or embarrassed—or they may not know how to behave. Make sure they know that any emotion they are feeling is okay.
- Do remember that children don’t process emotions the same way we do.
Because most kids haven’t dealt with anything like this yet in their life, they will need a lot of explanation and reassurance throughout the experience.
It could help to explain things to them in very simple ways: Alzheimer’s Disease happens when the brain gets sick, and there is no way to help it get better.
- Do make sure children know what Alzheimer’s is not.
It is not the child’s fault, and it is not the fault of the person who has Alzheimer’s. Even if the person with the disease directs anger at the child, it is the disease talking, not the person.
“Some children may also need to hear that the disease is not contagious—they won’t get it and neither will their parents or siblings,” said Sarah.
- Do help children know how to interact with the person who has Alzheimer’s.
“It is important to show love to the person with Alzheimer’s because they still feel love even if they aren’t able to express it,” said Sarah.
While you shouldn’t force your child to interact in ways that make them uncomfortable, encourage them to think differently about what they can do. For example, they can help with the person’s daily chores, sing with them, look at photos or spend time gardening.
- Do prepare your children for what’s to come.
“As Alzheimer’s progresses, it eventually can affect your whole body, and the body forgets how to work the way it should,” said Sarah. “Kids need to be prepared for that.”
Depending on the age of the child, you may want to talk to them about who is going to care for the person, whether they’ll be moving, going to a care facility or if people will be coming into the house to help.
There are also many books written for children on the topic of Alzheimer’s Disease.
“When children read, they can identify with the characters and what’s happening in the story,” said Sarah. “That can also help with your conversations.”
For more resources to help, visit the Alzheimer’s Association website.
Learn more about the early signs of Alzheimer's and tips on how to communicate with a loved one with Alzheimer's or other dementia related disorders.