Talking to Children About Alzheimer’s

If you have a loved one that has been diagnosedwith dementia, the effects can be far reaching within your family.  Your loved one may be coping with fear and anxiety about what’s ahead, you may find yourself managing a new set of caregiving responsibilities, and your children may be worrying about why their loved one called them by the wrong names.

Kids notice more than we often realize. They may not understand exactly what’s wrong, but it is important to include them in an age-appropriate way.

If you find yourself wondering how to talk to your children about Alzheimer’s, consider the following tips:

  • Explain the disease in ways your children can understand. The word “Alzheimer’s” may not mean much to kids, and “disease” can make it sound as though the condition is something they can “catch.” Consider saying something like, “Grandma has a memory problem…People aren’t usually good at everything, and some people aren’t very good with their memory.” Explain that lots of people need help as they age, but be sure to emphasize that just because their loved one needs help remembering things doesn’t mean he or she isn’t able to do anything anymore.
  • Try not to go overboard, but address common fears. You will know how much information your children needs by the types of questions they ask. Try hard to answer openly and honestly, but don’t share more than is necessary, such as details about what late-stage Alzheimer’s can be like if your parent has only just been diagnosed. If a grandparent forgets your child’s name, calls him or her by the wrong name, or confuses him or her with you, your child might misinterpret this, thinking that Grandma doesn’t love him or her anymore. Carefully explain that it’s not that she doesn’t love him; it’s that she can’t remember things that just happened, or even the names of people she loves most.
  • Finally, even if your child doesn’t ask, let him or her know Alzheimer’s is not in any way contagious. Emphasize that the disease has nothing to do with germs and cannot be “caught” by being near the loved one.

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