When a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, life changes not just for the person, but for the whole family as well. While adults have the capability to learn more about the disease and cope with its realities, young children may need help to comprehend the changes that may occur for their loved one and even for themselves. If you have children or grandchildren affected by the challenges of memory loss, you can become a great source of education and support.
“Young children will turn to adults for understanding as they experience the changes memory loss causes in their loved one,” says Rob Low, Community Relations Director at Clarity Pointe™ Pensacola, a memory care assisted living community in Pensacola, Florida. “The effects that dementia has on kids will depend on several factors, such as their relationship with the person diagnosed and how close they are to the primary caregiver. A diagnosis will cause greater changes for kids whose grandparent moves in with them and for kids who occasionally visit a loved one in a different state. Regardless, they’re bound to have questions about their loved one’s behavior, and the adults in their lives can teach them how to communicate and cope.”
Children’s Reactions to a Loved One’s Diagnosis
It may take some time until children develop an understanding of dementia and come to terms with what that means for their family members. Children may be overwhelmed by uncertainty at first, or experience different waves of emotion years into their loved one’s diagnosis. According to the Alzheimer’s Association®, adults should be prepared for a range of reactions from children, including:
Confusion or fear about their loved one’s behavior or actions
Sadness about the ways in which their loved one is changing
Worry that the disease is contagious, or concern that other family members might develop it
Guilt for becoming short-tempered with their loved one
Resentfulness over the amount of time and attention their parents give the person with dementia
Embarrassment when out in public with the person, or when visitors come over to the house
Additionally, children may hide their emotions in different ways. For example, they may begin to perform poorly at school or develop behavior issues. They may frequently complain of vague physical ailments (stomach-aches or headaches), which may or may not exist. They may also withdraw socially or from family activities. Be aware of these changes in children and recognize whether the cause lies in their loved one’s illness.
Talking with Children About Dementia
However the children in your family respond to their loved one’s illness, it’s important that they have trusted adults around who can help them understand the disease and cope with the changes it brings to their lives. The following tips can help you prepare to offer support and comfort for your family’s young ones:
Be prepared to answer questions – Young kids are bound to be curious about what dementia is and why their loved one behaves a certain way. Prepare yourself for possible questions kids might ask and think of how you might address difficult topics, such as death.
Answer questions honestly – Although you may want to protect children from the difficult parts of their loved one’s disease, honesty is the best policy when it comes to helping them cope. They will witness the realities of dementia anyway, so be sure they know to trust you whenever they need support.
Keep communication open – Encourage children to ask you questions, and talk to them about memory loss in a way that’s appropriate for their age. Let them know that they can always talk to you about their thoughts and feelings.
Teach them about dementia – Just as adults learn to cope through understanding, kids also benefit from being educated about their loved one’s disease. Especially if their loved one is in the middle or later stages of dementia, children should understand that the disease is causing their difficult behaviors. Some children may think that they made their loved one angry and blame themselves. Be sure to help kids understand what they might experience throughout their loved one’s illness.
Help them stay involved – Explain to children that they can still interact and communicate with their loved one. Pass on helpful communication techniques that you learn to help them have positive conversations with their loved one. Encourage them to engage in fun activities together, such as watching a movie, putting together a puzzle, going for a walk or reading a book.
Caring for Families
“At Clarity Pointe Pensacola, we believe that families are a vital part of their loved one’s well-being,” shares Low. “That’s why we offer education and support for family members who are caring for someone with dementia. We know that memory loss is a family diagnosis, and everyone experiences its effects and changes. The whole family is in need of guidance and support when it comes to coping with the disease.
“If you or someone in your family could use guidance on talking to kids about a loved one’s dementia diagnosis, the team at Clarity Pointe is ready to help! Feel free to reach out to us for advice or resources that can help your children understand and cope with a loved one’s memory loss.”
Clarity Pointe™ … Our Difference is Clear
Clarity Pointe™’s Specialized Memory Care “Living” Neighborhoods are truly changing lives for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias – and for those who love them. At Clarity Pointe, our mission is to ensure our residents lead connected and rewarding lives.
Unlike other providers that offer a secure memory care wing in a skilled nursing or assisted living center, Clarity Pointe Pensacola offers three free-standing, purpose-built memory care communities that are solely and entirely dedicated to memory care assisted living. Our communities blend luxurious surroundings with specialized care that is individualized to each resident and delivered by a compassionate, expert team of professionals.
We stay current on the latest trends and advancements in Alzheimer’s care and implement them into our residents’ care plans. Always moving forward, we combine the latest in evidence-based programming with luxurious, residential living and compassionate respectful care.
For each of our residents, we offer a life that is engaging, fulfilling, inspiring and meaningful.