Talking To Your Children About A Family Member With Alzheimer's

18 June 2015
 Categories: , Blog


Having an elderly parent enter a nursing home because of Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia is often emotionally taxing on you and your spouse. Although your children might not fully grasp the situation, depending on their age, the entire process of interacting with a grandparent who no longer seems like him or herself can be upsetting, confusing or downright scary to children. You shouldn't handle the situation by simply ignoring the issue or arranging for a babysitter when you need to visit the nursing home. To effectively include your children in this experience, it's best to take some time to thoroughly discuss the issue with them and listen to any questions that might arise.

Be Realistic

Obviously, it's important to adjust the frankness of your discussion to your child's age, but "Parents" magazine recommends being open and honest when discussing Alzheimer's with your children. Although it's valuable to explain the ins and outs of the disease, it's also effective to explain how it has changed your family member and how it will likely continue to do so. Don't try to sugarcoat the situation by telling your child that his or her grandparent is simply going through a difficult phase that will soon get better. You don't need to make the scenario sound frightening, but it's best to be honest.

Turn To The Experts

No parent looks forward to discussing Alzheimer's with a child, but it's important to remember that you're not in this journey alone. Regardless of the age of your children, you can use books and other teaching materials to explain the situation in an age-appropriate manner. The National Institute on Aging provides a comprehensive list of books and resources for young children and teenagers alike, which can make your goal of providing education about this topic much easier.

Introduce Appropriate Activities

Children might feel uncomfortable or awkward about sitting in front of a grandparent with Alzheimer's, and these feelings can become stronger when the grandparent noticeably struggles with his or her memory or even makes an out-of-context remark. Instead of inviting this situation, do your best to introduce an activity that you, your spouse and your children can enjoy with the Alzheimer's patient. The activity doesn't have to be complex -- taking a walk around the nursing home grounds, inviting your children to share schoolwork or art projects or flipping through a family photo album are all suitable activities.