When a grandparent starts showing Alzheimer’s symptoms, children may feel scared, angry, anxious, stressed, frustrated ... just like adults but without the benefits of emotional maturity and life experience. Giving each kid a safe, healthy way to express and process their feelings is critical to their emotional health and relationship with their grandparent moving forward.
“Kids know when something is wrong, whether they witness their grandparents’ behavioral changes or sense their parents’ worry and stress,” says Jessica Smith, Community Relations Director at YourLife™ of Wildwood, a new Memory Care community in Wildwood, Florida. “It’s important to acknowledge and explain their loved one’s changes, validate the child’s feelings, and assure them that their grandparent’s love will remain constant.”
In this post are 7 tips for helping children and teens talk about dementia.
1. Honesty begets honesty. Don’t keep your loved one’s diagnosis a secret. Kids are intuitive, inquisitive, and imaginative. Experts warn that a lack of information or validation can drive kids to worry incessantly, seek answers on their own (not always from reliable sources) or make up wildly imaginative explanations, develop emotional or behavioral issues due to stress, or lose trust in a parent who downplayed or denied their concerns.
2. Validate kids’ feelings and fears. Talk to kids about your loved one’s symptoms and ask how they feel about them. Help them open up by assuring them that whatever they’re feeling – scared, sad, confused, angry, or none of the above – is perfectly normal and okay.
3. Lead by example. Be honest with kids about your own feelings (but don’t overwhelm them). Show them it’s safe to discuss feelings with you, judgment-free, and that you are in this together as a family.
4. Encourage children to ask questions – and answer honestly. Be prepared to tell kids there isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, discuss symptom progression in age-appropriate terms, and address other common things kids ask about dementia. If you don’t know an answer, say so and offer to find out.
5. Encourage children to express themselves through art, music, journaling, or conversation.
6. Discuss your loved one’s disease in ways that make sense to kids. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends several fantastic books that address what it’s like to have memory loss, what the changes mean, and more in languages that young children and teens can understand. Picks include Why Did Grandma Put Her Underwear in the Freezer and The Graduation of Jake Moon. The association also created an informational video series featuring kids who have known someone with Alzheimer’s disease and recommends several websites written for kids.
7. Keep communication lines open. After you inform kids about the diagnosis and what it means, check in with them regularly. If they aren’t ready to talk, don’t pressure them but gently remind them that you are never too stressed, sad, or busy to listen to them. A teenager who has had more time to develop fond memories of their grandparent pre-dementia – and a firmer concept of death and illness – may take longer to accept and process your loved one’s diagnosis.
BONUS TALKING POINT: Show kids how to communicate and have loving, meaningful relationships with their grandparents as symptoms progress.
For tips on helping kids cope with a grandparent’s memory loss, call our dementia care experts at YourLife™ of Wildwood today at 352-433-0942.
Designed for You. Defined by You.
YourLife™ of Wildwood provides the most exceptional Memory Care and uplifting lifestyle for our residents. In fact, we were created with that one purpose in mind. Each day, we focus all our energy, attention and resources on creating an environment that caters to each resident’s personal needs, choices and individuality, while ensuring unequaled peace of mind and dedicated support for families.
At YourLife™ of Wildwood, we have the ability to design and personally tailor plans around our residents thanks to our sole focus on Memory Care. We understand that everyone has their own story, specific needs and retained abilities, so we develop personally inspired care plans that help to enhance and support each person’s independence while enriching their days. To ensure further peace of mind, our team of YourLife™ Personal Care Specialists is on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide assistance with everyday activities, gentle reminders and redirection.
With our signature YourStory programming, we not only personalize Memory Care, but we are able to create an individual experience centered around each resident. From cultural, educational and wellness programming to scheduled outings and other special events, to personal care, assistance and multiple therapies, we create days with meaning. At YourLife™ of Wildwood, our residents and their families know that this is a community designed for you, with a lifestyle defined by you. Contact us to learn more!
Call us at 352-433-0942 for more information or to schedule a personal visit today.