Alzheimer's: Helping children understand the disease

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Alzheimer's: Helping children understand the disease

Watching a loved one progress through the stages of Alzheimer's disease can be frightening, even for adults. Imagine being a child struggling to understand why grandma is acting so strangely or can't remember who you are. You can help by offering comfort and support when needed.

Anticipating your child's questions

When your child asks questions, respond with simple, honest answers. For example:

  • Is grandma crazy? Explain that Alzheimer's is a disease. Just as children get colds and tummy aches, older adults may get an illness that causes them to act differently and to forget things. They may look the same on the outside, but their brains are changing on the inside.
  • Doesn't grandpa love me anymore? If the person who has Alzheimer's disease no longer recognizes your child, he or she may feel rejected. Remind your child that the disease makes it hard for your loved one to remember things — but your child is still an important part of the person's life.
  • Is it my fault? If the person who has Alzheimer's accuses your child of some wrongdoing — such as misplacing a purse or keys — your child might feel responsible. Explain to your child that he or she isn't to blame.
  • Will you get Alzheimer's? Will I? Reassure your child that Alzheimer's disease isn't contagious. Most people don't get Alzheimer's.
  • What will happen next? If you'll be caring for the person who has Alzheimer's in your home, prepare your child for the changes in routine. Explain to your child that your loved one will have good days and bad days. Reassure your child that he or she is loved — no matter what the future holds.

If your child has trouble talking about the situation or withdraws from your loved one, open the conversation yourself. Ask what changes your child has noticed in the loved one who has Alzheimer's disease. Your child's observations may lead naturally to an exploration of his or her own feelings and worries. Tell your child it's OK to feel nervous, sad or angry.

To boost your child's understanding of Alzheimer's, it may help to read age-appropriate books on the disease.

Staying involved

Most kids are amazingly resilient. Help your child stay connected to the person who has Alzheimer's. Involve them in familiar activities, such as setting the table together. Shared leisure time is important, too. Even young children can stay connected with a loved one who has Alzheimer's by paging through photo albums, listening to music or doing other simple activities together.

If your child becomes impatient with your loved one, remind your child that the behavior isn't intentional — it's a result of the disease. Together, focus on finding ways to show your loved one how much you love him or her. Even if your loved one forgets your child's name, he or she can still feel love and kindness.

Last Updated: 2010-01-21
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