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Helping Children Understand Alzheimer's Disease

When a family member has Alzheimer's disease, it affects everyone in the family, including children and grandchildren. Giving children understandable information about Alzheimer's disease can help them cope with Alzheimer's in their family.

Grandpa and grandchild

The Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center offers some suggestions about discussing dementia with younger family members:

  • Answer children's questions simply and honestly. For example, you might tell a young child, "Grandma has an illness that makes it hard for her to remember things."
  • Help children to know that their feelings of sadness and anger are normal.
  • Comfort them. If children express guilt or feel that they may have done something to hurt their grandparent, reassure them that they did not cause the disease.

If the child lives in the same house as someone with Alzheimer's disease:

  • Do not expect a young child to help care for the person with Alzheimer's.
  • Make sure the child has time for his or her own interests and needs, such as playing with friends, going to school activities, or doing homework.
  • Make sure you spend time with your child, so he or she does not feel that all your attention is being given to the person with Alzheimer's.
  • Help the child understand your feelings. Be honest about your feelings when you talk with a child, but do not overwhelm him or her.

Many younger children will look to you to see how to act around the person with Alzheimer's. Show children they can still talk with the person, at least in the early stages of the disease. Doing fun things together, with parental supervision depending on the age of the child, can help both the child and the person with Alzheimer's. Here are some things they might do:

  • Walk in the neighborhood;
  • Do simple arts and crafts;
  • Play music;
  • Sing;
  • Look through photo albums; or, 
  • Read stories out loud.

However, in the later stages, the person with Alzheimer's may be completely unresponsive. This may be very hard for a child to understand. Some children might not talk about their negative feelings, but you may see changes in how they act. Problems at school, with friends, or at home can be signs that they are upset. You may want to ask a school counselor or a social worker to help a child understand what is happening and how to cope.

A teenager might find it very hard to accept how the person with Alzheimer's has changed. He or she might find the changes upsetting, and may not want to be around the older person. It is a good idea to talk with teenagers about their concerns and feelings. Do not force them to spend time with the person who has Alzheimer's. This could make things worse.

If the stress of living with someone who has Alzheimer's becomes too great for a child, talk to other family members or friends about helping out. Or, find out about, and consider using, respite care options available in your community. Then, both you and your child can get a much-needed break.

For More Information

The Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center lists a number of resources about Alzheimer's disease for children of all ages. Some appear on the ADEAR Web site; others are listed on the Alzheimer's disease library site. Use the search term "children" in the "keyword(s)" box.

The Alzheimer's Association maintains a list of resources for children, including the online brochure Helping Children and Teens Understand Alzheimer's Disease.

Click here to learn how home care can help family caregivers help those with Alzheimer's disease.

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Right at Home is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned, franchised providers of in-home care and assistance services. 

 


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