Explaining Dementia to Children
Learning that a loved one has developed dementia or Alzheimer’s is difficult for everyone involved. Watching the impact of the brain disorders unfold can be particularly confusing for children. It’s important to know how to explain what’s going on in for the least distressing experience possible.
Because dementia is characterized by deterioration of the brain, many of its effects are unexplainable. The things an aging person may do when they’re suffering from it have no “logical” rhyme or reason. It’s natural to want to protect young people from unsettling situations like watching someone they care about struggle through such a disorder. Some ignore the problem, leaving children clueless or preventing them from seeing their grandparents or other older family members. However, educating them early on about the inevitable hardships of life is less adverse in the long run.
Here are our suggestions for helping a child cope with a grandmother or grandfather’s personality changes.
Have a sit-down talk
Having an explicit, open and honest discussion about your child’s elderly loved one is essential to all parties involved. Witnessing the tension around them without understanding why is extremely troubling. Plus, leaving the situation unexplained may leave children distrusting what people say in the future. Through a sit-down chat, children are able to articulate feelings, which in and of itself can ease them. Furthermore, you are able to learn specifically what may be worrying them — giving you the ability to answer their questions and offer some clarity.
Keep explanations simple
Of course, children cannot process detailed facts about a disease such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. It’s easy to give too much information, but this may cause more anxiety for a child. Keep explanations simple, briefly telling them what dementia is; then, reveal things incrementally with suggestions for action as circumstances call for it. For example, telling a child “Grandma may be feeling a little quiet today, so let’s keep her company and make sure she knows how much we love her” is enough for them to process.
Involve them in care
Not only will grandparents benefit from the love of their grandchildren, an emotional closeness to grandparents is associated with fewer symptoms of depression for the child in the future. A sense of community and belonging is essential to everyone’s mental health. Have your kids support their senior loved one in light caregiving tasks. This teaches them about giving love as well as practical knowledge about affliction.
Have them read about it
Age-appropriate books are very good for giving children insight into difficult situations. They are able to educate children through visuals and words that you may not be able to find yourself. There are many, many books on the topic, including these wonderful recommendations by the Alzheimer’s Society.
How has your family dealt with talking to children about dementia or Alzheimer’s? We’d love to hear your stories and suggestions. Let us know in the comments section below!