Dementia is a memory-related condition that can impact the entire family, children and grandchildren included. Seeing their grandparents struggle with cognitive decline may be a distressing and confusing experience for young ones. Although the individual with dementia deserves all the support they can get, the youth must also grasp how the condition affects others in order to learn how to cope with changes. Younger children are likely to have many inquiries about dementia, whereas older children and teens may use withdrawal as a coping mechanism. Here is how to tell your children about dementia and to communicate with them about the inevitable changes that come with dementia.
The reactions and behaviors of children and teenagers are entirely normal, as they come to terms with this extremely complex situation involving a loved one. Depending on the temperament of the child, here are some ways they could potentially react:
- Confusion or sadness over the strange or different behavior of their loved one
- Sadness because their loved one doesn’t recognize them
- Awkwardness or feeling unsure about how to behave around their loved one
- Becoming fearful of their loved one
- Becoming embarrassed to have guests over
- Frustration at having to constantly repeat words or phrases
- Feeling guilty about resenting the extra time and resources dedicated for their loved one
Explaining Dementia to Children
It is important to convey to young children the expectations and appropriate reactions to the mental deterioration of their loved ones from the start. One approach is to relate dementia to a common condition that they may have had in the past. Ask the child, “Remember how you had a fever or cough when you had the flu?”, and then explain, “Grandpa’s brain is sick, just like your body was sick.” This provides them with an easy and straightforward explanation. You should also inform children that, despite their grandparents’ or loved ones’ declining cognitive abilities, love and affection are still recognized and appreciated, even if only for that moment. Children can also bond with their grandparents by doing activities they typically enjoy together, such as gardening, cooking, or singing along to music. Questions young children ask about dementia should be answered openly, honestly, and in an age-appropriate manner. Do not sugar-coat, for children’s minds are highly intuitive, and they can grasp and understand complicated situations.
Explaining Dementia to Teenagers
Teenagers may have even more difficulty communicating their frustrations about the changes their grandparent is experiencing and may become resentful. Fostering the correct mindset will greatly benefit them and caring for your loved one together may help you and your older child get closer. Unique challenges teens deal with may include feeling conflicted over having to juggle schoolwork and extra house chores, or embarrassment over their grandparent’s condition when talking to friends. Teens are open to honest and clear dialogue concerning dementia, and conversations should take place with extra support and comfort. Let them know that their feelings are justified and give them opportunities and safe spaces to share, vent, or ask questions.
Embark on Senior Living with Veranda Club
If you or your loved one are dealing with dementia or are looking to move to a senior living community, our team at Veranda Club will be more than happy to assist and answer any questions you may have about the living options, programs, and more.