If you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, you already know how many challenges the disease presents, both for you and for your loved one. However, watching someone they love cope with Alzheimer’s can be especially challenging for children and teenagers. They can’t be expected to have the same perspective that you have; likely all they know is that someone who is dear to them is sick and is different, and acting in ways that are strange or mystifying. This may make them feel inclined to “step back,” to distance themselves. What elderly ones suffering from Alzheimer’s need however, is just the opposite; they benefit from having those who love them nearby, even when they do not always outwardly respond in positive ways.
Talk with your child about Alzheimer’s
You already have a lot on your plate, but if you take the time to involve your child in your loved one’s daily life, both will benefit. Here are a few tips on what to do:
- Address any concerns your child may have, even if he or does not express them. Explain in simple language (appropriate for your child’s age) what Alzheimer’s is and how it is likely to affect your loved one. Let your child know that Alzheimer’s is not a disease he or she can “catch,” and talk about what changes are likely to occur over time. Encourage questions, no matter what they are, so that your child can be well informed.
- Know that your child may react with strong emotions, both now and in the future. Do your best to accept that he or she feels sad, angry, or anxious, and try to talk about those feelings as honestly as possible. Try to share your own feelings, too.
- If you see your child withdrawing from your loved one, try to talk about it. Praise him or her for any efforts to stay involved.
- Look for ways to involve your child in your loved one’s life. Can the two spend time together reading aloud? Does your child have artwork from school to share? Would he or she be able to take your senior loved one outside for a walk around the block? Are there household chores that your loved one likes to do (setting the table, folding laundry, etc.) with which your child can help?
- Involve your child in the process. Ask, “What could we do with Grandma this weekend?” or “Can you think of a book we could read Pops later tonight?”
- Be ready to give your child space when needed. It’s a delicate balance between encouraging children to stay involved and pushing them too hard. Sometimes they may just need a little time; respect that when it seems appropriate.
Growing up can be difficult; it’s full of personal changes, and dealing with unexpected and dramatic changes in those we love can be especially difficult. In the long run though, your child will probably benefit from maintaining as close a relationship as possible with his or her grandmother, grandfather, or other loved one with Alzheimer’s.