Caregivers’ Corner: Helping Children Understand Dementia

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson September 15, 2015 18:19

3 generationsWhen grandpa is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s the repercussions slam through the entire family.

Grandpa may respond with fear, denial, grief, sadness, depression, confusion, embarrassment, resignation or a shifting kaleidoscope of emotions. With this he’s also dealing with memory loss, confusion, agitation and a growing list of symptoms.

Grandma watches her life partner disappearing as she scrambles to cope with his care, taking on the parts of their lives he used to handle, making sure their affairs are in order, trying to plan for the future and deal with her own emotions and grief.

Sons and daughters rearrange their busy lives to offer the support they can for their parents, and battle with their own storm of emotions.

While the adults are in high stress mode, the grandkids – whether six years old or 16 – are often left wondering what they have done wrong. They may be afraid for Grandpa, afraid of Grandpa, sad, worried they’ll catch it, angry, resentful, guilty, embarrassed or confused. The Alzheimer’s Association makes these suggestions:

  • Offer them comfort and support.
  • Provide opportunities for them to express their feelings.
  • Let them know their feelings are normal.
  • Educate them about the disease and encourage them to ask questions, then respond honestly.

The Association offers an excellent website for kids and teens:

Additional resources can be found on the National Institute for Aging website at

It’s important for children to hear they haven’t done anything wrong, and if Grandpa is cranky or mean that it is not anyone’s fault – it is the disease. Some children may choose not to visit and probably shouldn’t be pushed; others may simply need a little help figuring out how to handle a visit.

Work with the child to come up with ideas of what he and Grandpa might be able to do together. It could be pulling out an old photo album so Grandpa can share stories, watching a favorite family movie or singing familiar old songs.

While grandkids need support learning to deal with Grandpa, he also needs help to make their time a success.

  • Try to keep confusion to a minimum during a visit. One child at a time is often best.
  • Grandpa may not remember a grandchild’s name, so protect them both from embarrassment with a gentle introduction. “Logan’s here to see you, Dad.”
  • If Grandpa is having a hard day, consider if the visit should be delayed or shortened. However, spending 10 minutes listening to his granddaughter play the clarinet may be just the ticket to a happier rest of the day for him.

The bond between grandparent and grandchild can be both precious and nurturing, but guiding it with care, thoughtfulness and compassion can preserve its special nature for everyone.

Joan Jackson is a partner with Peter Carrillo in Practical Dreamer (209-588-1835), whose services include free caregiver support groups sponsored by Area 12 Agency on Aging.

Copyright © 2015 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson September 15, 2015 18:19
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