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Helping Kids Understand

Alzheimer’s disease can have a big impact on every member of the family, including children. Each child will react differently to someone who has Alzheimer’s. The young people in your life might have questions about what is happening. It’s important for you to answer these questions openly and honestly. It will also help to share with them the changes the disease might bring, now and in the future.

In my experience, unlike adults, young people see right through Alzheimer's disease. They see the grandparent they have always known, and recognize that they are sick. While this saddens them they seem to rise to the occasion in a way that most adults might never expect.

JMBHere's help easing their fears and answering their questions. Watching a loved one progress through the stages of Alzheimer's is distressing for adults.

Many caregiver's find the emotion overwheming when having to explain the disease to children.

From the childs viewpoint, Imagine being a child struggling to understand why grandma is acting so strangely or can't remember who you are. You can help by noting your child's emotional responses to situations that arise and offering comfort and support when needed and being prepared to answer their questions. Anticipating your child's questions , respond with simple, honest answers and remember most kids are amazingly resilient.

"My mother always wanted grandchildren (and really wasn't too concerened about from which of my siblings.)
When she finally had some grandchildren she was several years into her diagnosis of Alzhiemers and didn't really get to enjoy them.
Once she went into permanent care, it became obvious to us that the visits were actually traumatizing the grand kids and we were forced to keep the grandchildren away. Of course, this decision then made made her eventual passing even more traumaticfor everyone some six months later."


Factors That May Affect Your Child

    How your child is related to the person (a parent, grandparent, relative, friend).

    How close your child is to this person emotionally.

    Where this person lives (in the same home, long-term care facility, another state).

Alzheimer's often prompts children to ask questions such as these:

IS GRANDMA CRAZY? - Explain that Alzheimer's is a disease. Just as children get colds and tummy aches, older adults may get an illness that causes them to act differently and to forget things.

DOSN'T GRANDMA LOVE ME ANYMORE? - If the person with Alzheimer's disease no longer recognizes your child, he or she may feel rejected. Remind your child that the disease makes it hard for your loved one to remember things — but your child is still an important part of the person's life.

IS IT MY FAULT? - If the person with Alzheimer's accuses your child of some wrongdoing — such as misplacing a purse or keys — your child might feel responsible. Explain to your child that he or she isn't to blame.

WILL YOU / I GET ALZHEIMER'S TOO? - Reassure your child that Alzheimer's disease isn't contagious. Most people don't get Alzheimer's.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT? - If you'll be caring for the person with Alzheimer's in your home, prepare your child for the changes in routine. Reassure your child that he or she is loved — no matter what the future holds.

Help your child stay connected to the person with Alzheimer's. Involve them in familiar activities, such as setting the table together. Shared leisure time is important, too. Even young children can stay connected with a relative who has Alzheimer's by paging through photo albums or listening to music together. If your child becomes impatient with your loved one, reiterate that the behavior isn't intentional — it's a result of the disease. Find ways to show your family member how much you love him or her.



Common reactions of children and teens

When a family member is living with dementia, a child might feel:

  • SAD about how the person is changing.
  • CURIOUS about how people get the disease.
  • CONFUSED about why the person acts differently or doesn’t recognize him or her.
  • FRUSTRATED by the new things it’s necessary to do like repeating words or phrases.
  • GUILTY for resenting the time and resources the person requires of the family.
  • AFRAID of the different ways in which the person may act.
  • JEALOUS of the additional time and attention given to the person.
  • WORRIED that he or she — or other loved ones — might also get Alzheimer’s.
  • EMBARRASSED to have friends or other visitors to the house if the person is there and acts strangely.
  • UNSURE how to act around the person.

All of these feelings are normal. Keep in mind that children are also resilient and may respond to the situation with few problems. It might be difficult to recognize how your child is feeling. A child who is having a hard time understanding or accepting the disease might:

  • Withdraw from or lose patience with the person.
  • Express physical pain, like a stomach ache or headache.
  • Do poorly in school.
  • Spend more time away from home.
  • Stop inviting friends to the house.
  • Argue more with others at home, especially those providing care for the person with Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer's and Teenage Understanding

Adolescence is challenging in general, and the disease may bring even more changes to your teen’s life. For example, you may need to ask your teen to pitch in more around the house or to assist with caregiving.

Teens may express a variety of thoughts about how their lives have changed, such as:

  • I don’t like to talk about what’s going on at home with my friends.
  • When I help out with my uncle, I feel like my family really needs me.
  • I feel good that I know how to do the little things that make a difference for my dad.
  • Sometimes I feel embarrassed about how my grandpa is acting.
  • I don’t feel comfortable having my friends over right now.
  • I’ve never felt closer to my mom than I do now because we’re facing this together.
" Caregiving is a 24-hour-a-day job, and I helped Mom wherever I could. As a young child, I remember helping Dad get dressed, tying his shoes, and preparing his breakfast, all before I went to school. I often held my Dad's hand so he wouldn't wander and get lost. I worried when he did. To calm both our fears, I often read and sang to him. All the simple things we took for granted became much more difficult."
"Although I try to be strong, it has been extremely stressful and absolutely devastating to watch what this disease has done to my Dad, my family, and our friends. I wish no one ever has to learn first-hand what it's like to struggle financially because of this disease, or shed tears of frustration and pain because they are worried about their loved ones and their own future. "

Written by Sixteen years old Alzheimer's Caregiver. In her essay, Teen Caregiver