Anyone who has a family member that lives with Alzheimer’s disease can tell you this is not a disease that affects just one person—it affects the whole family. Some of the family members who struggle the most are the young children and grandchildren of someone afflicted with Alzheimer’s. They often feel confused and scared to see someone they care about go through the changes associated with the disease process.
At any age, children can sense stress and tension in their environment. One way to help grandchildren navigate through the stressful times is to address their questions and concerns directly with age appropriate responses. Young children and teenagers need to know this is not a disease they can “get from grandma,” but rather an illness that will bring about change in the person they love. Children will also benefit from knowing some of the changes that may occur in the future, for instance forgetting names, not recognizing faces and asking repetitive questions. Based on the child’s level of understanding, try to prepare them for the changes they’ll see in their loved one by being open and honest when explaining Alzheimer’s to kids.
Encourage the grandchildren or young people to participate in providing care for and interacting with their loved one. Staying involved and helping grandparents will help make the situation seem more normal, will prevent them from feeling left out and help them continue to have a relationship with the individual with Alzheimer’s disease. However, don't give them too much responsibility or let these tasks take up too much of their time−it's important that they continue with their normal lives.
Everyone in the family can play a vital role in providing care for a person with Alzheimer’s disease, no matter how young or small. In fact, children contribute to the simplest joyous pleasures of the family.
Great resources are available to families on this topic: books and websites that specialize in age appropriate materials. A great way to locate these materials for your family is to contact your local Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org).
Crystal Roberts is the National Memory Care Director at Emeritus, an Assisted Living Provider.