Helping Children Understand Dementia


Q: DEAR Ms.Posvar, My children are troubling me with my dad who has Alzheimer’s. I have four children at 7, 10, 12, 14 all boys. My 10 year old is the only one who doesn’t trouble me with helping to care for my dad. The others really argue with my dad and just don’t understand he needs help. They do not like to be around him. How can I get them to understand? They just call him mad grandad.

A: Alzheimer’s affects everyone in the family even the children and grand- children. For children of all ages it is important to talk to them and give them information about the disease. How much information you give depends on age of the child, and the relationship the child has with your dad.

The younger children you want to talk to them about their feelings and concerns. Answer their questions truthfully and simply. Some may not talk about the negative feelings but problems at school with their friends or at home may be a sign that they are upset. Sometimes the school counsellor can help your child understand what is happening. You can tell them things like; “ Grandad has an illness that makes it hard for him to remember things.” Telling your children that it is normal to feel sad or angry and comforting them will help them cope.

Teenagers may find it hard to accept the changes with your dad. They may feel embarrassed and upset and as you have mentioned, not wanting to be around your dad. Forcing your teenager to spend time with your dad may make things worse. Be honest with all of your children about your own feelings but do not overwhelm them.

Children and teenagers who are living with the person with Alzheimer’s or another related dementia will need time out and attention for their care and feelings as well. They need time without the person with dementia and to stay in social connection with their friends. They need mom and dad time too. This will decrease the feelings that all your time is just for grandad.

It is important to show them that they can still talk to him and help enjoy activities. Such as singing with him; doing simple crafts; dominos; read stories out loud to him and look at photos. Doing fun things together will help the children and your dad.

I would challenge them to learn more about the disease and use it as a school report. You can go to www.angelsofthewestindies.com and go to the resource tab and get some information. Notify Angels of the West Indies and they can help with information flyers to help children understand and cope. Children are also welcome to the family and friends Awareness support.

Q: Does the person you care for rummage throughout the house? What do you do about it? Here are a few things we can consider.

A: In some cases, there might be a logical reason for this behaviour. For instance, the person may be looking for something specific, although he or she may not be able to tell you what it is. He or she may be hungry or bored. Try to understand what is causing the behaviour so you can fit your response to the cause.

You can take steps that allow the person with Alzheimer’s to rummage while protecting your belongings and keeping the person safe. Try these tips: • Lock up dangerous or toxic products, or place them out of the person’s sight and reach. • Remove spoiled food from the refrigerator and cabinets. Someone with Alzheimer’s may look for snacks but lack the judgement or sense of taste to stay away from spoiled foods. • Remove valuable items that could be misplaced or hidden by the person, like important papers, chequebooks, charge cards, jewellery, and keys. • People with Alzheimer’s often hide, lose, or throw away mail. You can create a special place where the person with Alzheimer’s can rummage freely or sort things. This could be a chest of drawers, a bag of objects, or a basket of clothing to fold or unfold. Give him or her a personal box, chest, or cupboard to store special objects. You may have to remind the person where to find his or her personal storage place.

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