Talking to Your Children About Their Grandparents’ Behavioral Changes

Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia take a toll on everyone in the family, from the person with dementia, to their grown children, all the way down to their grandchildren. It can be particularly difficult and confusing for children to see their adoring grandparents become grumpy, even angry and confused, right before their very eyes.

“Knowledge is power” is always better than “ignorance is bliss” when it comes to including children in what is going on with their grandparent’s personality changes. Many families seek to shelter their children from the ravages of Alzheimer’s and dementia, but with a little age appropriate information, we can help our children understand what is going on, and to not be afraid of the changes, and to know they can still interact with their grandparents, just perhaps differently than they have in the past.

If you don’t tell children what is going on, they are going to make up their own story to explain things. They may blame themselves or others. You are not protecting your child by not talking about dementia. You may want to consider these steps in talking with your children.

  1. Sit down and chat. Start the conversation with some open-ended questions such as “Have you noticed grandma has been acting different lately?” You can use this as an opening to explain the disease and some of the symptoms, and make clear that is no one’s fault.
  2. Keep it Simple. Depending on the age of your child(ren) you may want to tailor your explanations differently. Instead of unloading all at once, you can break it up into bits, such as what Alzheimer’s or dementia is and how it affects people. A later conversation can deal with how the child’s interactions with the grandparent can help both of them continue a loving relationship.
  3. Find Age Appropriate Books. Children’s books can be a wonderful way to explain complicated situations, by showing another child and their family who are going through a similar situation. A quick online search for “children’s books on Alzheimer’s” results in many titles. You can order online, visit your local bookstore or local library for resources. There are books designed for younger children, as well as teen readers.
  4. Focus on the Positive. If your child used to go to the movies with grandma, or get ice cream on Sundays with grandpa, and now the grandparent is suffering from dementia, you may need to find new ways the two generations can interact. That can include playing card games, coloring, looking through photo albums, etc. Your child might also want to do something thoughtful for the grandparent, such as making a card or drawing to display in their room.
  5. Realize that Every Child is Different. Some children may grasp the situation immediately, and modify their behavior and interactions and want to be involved in the care of their grandparent. Others may not. Children deal with illness in different ways. Be prepared for that, and don’t force them to do something or be something they are not.

Whether the grandparent is living at home with you or another family member, or has moved into assisted living and a dementia care unit, all of these tips apply. The key is to keep the loving relationship between grandparent and grandchild alive. Studies show that interaction with loved ones helps Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. While grandma may be having a bad day today, next week could be a really good day.

Hart Heritage Assisted Living in Harford County has Alzheimer’s care and dementia care communities when your loved one can no longer live at home. We also provide respite care for families and caregivers who just need a break. Call 410-638-6047 with questions or to schedule a tour of our dementia care homes. We provide around the clock care in a warm, welcoming and secure environment.

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