What to Tell Kids About Alzheimer’s Disease

It’s difficult enough for an adult to comprehend and adjust to what’s happening when a loved one suddenly develops Alzheimer’s disease or other form of dementia. Imagine how your children must feel when Grandma or Grandpa starts behaving oddly and doesn’t always seem to know them. Or can’t remember the last trip you all took to the Kansas City Zoo.

So how do you explain Alzheimer’s to a child or a teenager? Here are some suggestions:

Be honest, but keep it simple. Kids know when something’s wrong, and are bound to have questions. So if your child asks, “What’s wrong with Grandma?” tell the truth, but keep your answer simple. For example, you might say something like, “Grandma is sick. Her illness makes it hard for her to remembering things anymore.” Make it clear this is something that won’t go away in a few days like a cold or the flu.

Address any additional questions. Children are naturally inquisitive, so ask your child if he/she has any more questions about Grandma’s illness. Or about anything odd that Grandma has said or done. Again, keep your answers simple, but be honest.

Ask how your child is feeling. Kids who are around a loved one who has dementia may sometimes feel sad, confused, rejected, scared, angry, or embarrassed. Try to address any emotions your child may be feeling.

Look for signs that your child may be upset. Kids don’t often express their emotions through verbal communication. They may instead start acting out at school or complaining of minor physical ailments. If the person who has Alzheimer’s lives in your home, your child may start spending more time away from home or be hesitant to invite friends over. If you notice any of these behaviors, gently point them out and let your child know you’re open to hearing and responding to any of his or her concerns.

Teach your child how to interact with the person who has Alzheimer’s. Kids learn by example, so make sure you’re practicing good Alzheimer’s communications skills. Also, include your child in activities in which the person with dementia can also participate.

Schedule alone time with your child. Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s can be time consuming. Even so, children sometimes need to feel like they have your undivided attention. So make sure your child is getting enough one-on-one time with you.

Get help. If you’re having a hard time keeping up with all of life’s demands while raising a family and being a full-time Alzheimer’s caregiver, get help from a Kansas City Allzheimer’s home care agency.