Talking to Your Kids About Alzheimer’s
One day Grandpa knows the kids’ names… but the next day, he doesn’t remember.
The unpredictability of Alzheimer’s can be confusing and sometimes very scary – especially for children, and explaining the disease to them can be particularly challenging. If it’s time to talk to your kids about a loved one’s diagnosis, these tips might be helpful:
Make sure they know Alzheimer’s is a disease.
Explain that your loved one has a medical condition that makes it hard for him/her to remember things and that he/she will have good days and bad days. Make sure they know that if your loved one doesn’t remember them, it doesn’t mean he/she doesn’t love them. It’s just the disease that’s making them act differently.
Keep it simple and straightforward.
Alzheimer’s is often hard for adults to understand, so imagine what it’s like for kids and teens. It’s best to keep it simple with language they can understand to explain the basics – what Alzheimer’s disease is, how it progresses and what they changes they might see in your loved one. Keep it general – don’t feel like you have to get into all of the details.
Help them understand that their feelings of sadness and anger are normal. They might not talk with you about their feelings, so watch for changes in how they act. Problems at school, home or with their friends could be a sign that they’re upset.
Explain that Alzheimer’s isn’t contagious.
Children often worry that they, or their parents, might “catch” Alzheimer’s. Make sure they know that the disease is not contagious, and they can’t “catch it like the flu or COVID-19.
Take advantage of available resources.
Maria Shriver helped create an impactful 30-minute film called Grandpa Do You Know Who I am?. Watching as a family can be helpful. The Alzheimer’s Association website has a Kids and Teens section that helps children understand Alzheimer’s and share stories with other children. These videos can reinforce the message that yours is not the only family coping with the disease. On the website, you’ll also find fact sheets and book suggestions that explain Alzheimer’s in a kid-friendly manner.
We touch on the changing family dynamic in our Family and Friends Dementia Education class. Ours is a high-touch approach designed to help family members and friends understand what to expect with dementia and how they can care for their loved ones, themselves and their families. The class is two-hours long and is offered in-person and via Zoom. It’s free to available to everyone – not just families served through the HomeCare Advocacy Network. For information about upcoming classes, call 402.965.0737 or click on the events tab on our website – hcanthrive.com.