Mother and daughter looking out a window

Roots & Wings: Talking to Your Children About Dementia (Part 3 of 4)

The philosophy of Roots and Wings is a dual approach of building a sense of tradition and looking to the future. In this four part series, we explore different ways for seniors to share roots and wings with their children, grandchildren and other loved ones. From passing on traditions to building a legacy to helping shape a stable future, there are many ways you can build meaningful moments that will have echoes far into the future.  

“What’s wrong with Grandma?”

“Why is Grandpa acting that way?”

“Did I do something to make Uncle Joe mad at me?”

Accepting the reality and difficulty of dementia can be hard enough for adults. For children, it can be a confusing and sometimes scary change to a person they love. As a parent, you may be torn about what to do. You know it’s important that your child and their grandparent spend time together, but what’s the best way to explain to your child what’s going on?

“Many parents struggle with how to help their children understand dementia and what it means for their senior loved one,” says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA. “But kids are smarter and more flexible than we give them credit for. They will notice that something different is going on with Grandma or Grandpa, and by informing them in an age-appropriate way what is going on, you’ll give them the tools and the knowledge to help them continue to build a relationship with your loved one through this journey.”

1. Be honest about the situation.
Kids, just like anyone else, don’t like to be lied to or left out of important things. So it’s important to be honest with them, within reason, about what’s happening to their loved one and what to expect moving forward. Experts recommend starting off with some questions to determine how much your kids have noticed or understood. Explain to them that your senior loved one is sick, and that the disease is affecting their brain, which is why they have been acting differently. You’ll also want to let them know that your loved one will never get “better,” but that it will still be possible to have a relationship with them, even though things will change.

2. Give them space to process and let them know there are no silly questions.
Seeing a loved one change is sad, and kids need time to process their grief in their own way. Encourage them to ask any questions they may have, and let them know there are no silly questions. You may want to visit the National Institute on Aging page, which has some excellent tips and tools for having an ongoing discussion with your children about dementia. Helping your kids understand what’s going on will make this disease less scary and help them know what to expect. At the same time, let them know that it’s okay if they’re afraid and that it’s a natural feeling – it’s a scary thought to think about losing your memories.

3. Explain that their loved one will do and say things that seem strange.
We always tell our kids not to lie, so the idea of “going with the flow” when a loved one is in their own reality can be a bit of a head-scratcher. One option is to explain that it’s like your loved one is playing make believe (just not on purpose), and that you can go along with it like it’s a game. For older children who can understand more of what’s going on, let them know that going along with their loved one’s delusions is actually a kind thing to do, and that trying to bring them back to “reality” can actually be hurtful.

4. Remind them that it’s the disease talking, not their loved one
Dementia causes our loved ones to react in very strange and sometimes upsetting ways. Whenever possible, remind your kids (and yourself) that Grandma or Grandpa is reacting that way because they’re sick and because of the disease – it’s not anything the child did or you said. In their hearts, they are still the same person you love and know.

5. Plan conversations and activities in advance.
Before you visit a loved one with dementia, sit down with your children and think about different conversations they could start with the senior, as well as fun things they could do together. Activities are a great way to spend time together and can help get over the awkwardness of not being able to carry on a “normal” conversation.”

Prompt your children to lead the conversations with their loved ones. Luckily, kids like talking about themselves and what they’re doing, and their excitement can get the person with dementia excited and happy, too. Your child can tell Grandma or Grandpa about what they’re doing in school, or the party they attended over the weekend, or the fun plans they have for summer vacation.

The activities that kids enjoy doing are, coincidentally, great activities to do with someone who has dementia. Here are a few ideas of things your kids and your loved one can do during a visit:

  • Listen to favorite music
  • Coloring together
  • Putting together a puzzle
  • Doing a craft, like flower arranging or making seasonal decorations
  • Singing songs together

While watching your loved one with dementia can be sad, remind your children that they still can have a good time together and there are still lots of things they can learn from them.

For more information about talking to kids about dementia, visit the Alzheimer’s Association’s® kids and teens web page, or contact our community at 925-272-0261.

Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care

Offering Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any seniors needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.

Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.

At The Reutlinger Community, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.

For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.