Alzheimer’s causes unpredictable days, both for the person living with the disease and for those who love and care for them. In the morning, the senior might seem like themselves, but by evening, they may become agitated and anxious. This is an example of a behavioral expression, or a person’s way of indicating that they have an unmet need or desire.
A grandparent might remember the grandchild and call them by name some days, but they might not recognize the child the next time they see them. The rollercoaster of emotions this creates can leave children feeling as if they’ve done something wrong. That’s why it’s important to discuss the issue early in the disease’s progression.
5 Tips for Explaining Alzheimer’s Disease to Children
It can be tough to explain the illness and its effects to younger children in terms they can understand. We have a few tips to help:
- The disease: First, explain that the senior has an illness that makes it hard for them to remember things. Because of their disease, they have good days and bad days. If they are having a bad day, they may act strange and not be able to remember people they love. But they are still the same person, and they need our love and respect.
- Keep it simple: Don’t try to explain every nuance of the disease to kids. They likely don’t want or need that level of detail. Talk about Alzheimer’s from a broader perspective and in general terms.
- Reassurance: Reassure children in the family that the changes in their loved one are part of the illness. It’s important that kids understand they haven’t done anything wrong. Additionally,
- Not contagious: Even if the kids don’t express this concern, they might worry that one of you will “catch” Alzheimer’s like you would a cold or the flu. Make sure they know that the disease does not affect people that way.
- Hear from their peers: The Alzheimer’s Association created two videos, Kids Look at Alzheimer’s and Teens Look at Alzheimer’s, that you can use when talking about the disease with your children. What’s especially helpful is that the videos feature children and teens who have experienced Alzheimer’s with someone they love.
We also suggest that you take time to develop a list of activities your kids can still do with their senior loved one despite the disease. Craft projects, music, dancing, birdwatching, and sorting cards are just a few ideas. After you discuss the disease with the kids, review your list with them. They might even have ideas to add to it.
Sunrise Podcast Library
The complex nature of Alzheimer’s disease can leave caregivers frustrated and confused. We created several podcast episodes to help families continue to learn more. In Episode 3 of The Senior Caregiver podcast, you can listen to memory care expert Rita Altman discuss a variety of topics and give additional advice for explaining Alzheimer’s to children.
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