How to Help Children Cope When a Loved One Has Alzheimer’s

A loved one’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis can be difficult to deal with, especially when children are involved. They generally don’t understand the full ramifications of the disease and why their grandparents or other family members don’t remember them very well. They may start to worry that other family members will forget who they are. And their confusion and worry may show up in other aspects of their life, such as neglected school work or opting to spend more time away from home. Fortunately, you can help them adjust. Here are some tips to get you started.

8. Validate Their Emotions

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Allow your children to vent. Support their feelings, even if those feelings aren’t positive. Alzheimer’s can be a very emotional disease for everyone, and you want your child to know that it’s OK to be scared or unhappy or frustrated. It’s all natural and part of the process of adjusting.

7. Educate Them about Alzheimer’s

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Give your children all the information you think they can handle. While kids can’t usually grasp the particulars of Alzheimer’s, they can certainly understand the general principles. Prepare them for what’s going to happen so that they’re not completely taken off guard when a loved one can’t remember their name or is experiencing bouts of forgetfulness.

6. Encourage Their Questions

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Encourage your children to ask questions. This will get them comfortable with what’s happening and start a dialogue. The more they know, the less they have to fear and be uncertain about.

5. Answer Honestly

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Be honest with your answers, even if the answers are grim. Children will find out the truth eventually, and you don’t want them becoming disillusioned.

4. Offer Comfort

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Comfort your kids during those bad days when their loved ones can’t remember them or seem different from the jolly grandparents (or aunts or uncles) that they knew. Just as their feelings need to be validated, they also need to be soothed.

3. Support Their Decisions

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Everyone deals with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis differently — including kids. Don’t force your child to visit or sit on a lap if it makes them uncomfortable. It takes a while to grow accustomed to the idea of Alzheimer’s, and part of their coping process might be staying away until they can wrap their minds around it.

2. Do Family Activities Together

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Continue doing activities with your children and your loved one who has Alzheimer’s, especially if that activity is a favorite one. Go on walks together or watch family movies. Look through picture albums. Going through pictures or doing favorite activities may help spark a memory.

1. Remind Them That They’re Loved

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Remind your children that their loved one still loves them, even if they’re forgetful or withdrawn. Any unhappiness or surliness is part of the disease and does not reflect the true feelings of their loved one.

Because the Alzheimer’s diagnosis of a family member can impact children so much, it’s important to know how they might respond and be ready to help them adjust. The forgetfulness and personality changes that take place can be scary, but these symptoms don’t have to define your kid’s relationship with their loved one going forward. In fact, if you’re honest and supportive with your children, you can help them maintain that closeness.

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