Do you have a parent living with Alzheimer’s? If you also have children, one of the more challenging relationships you’ll need to navigate is between them and their grandparent.
Alzheimer’s affects everyone in the family but it can be hardest to understand for those who are young. It’s not easy to explain how an illness can bring about such a profound change in someone they love.
However, it’s important that these discussions occur because it’s even more unsettling when there’s no explanation. Children may somehow blame themselves or not understand why their grandparent doesn’t remember them anymore.
Helping your children understand Alzheimer’s
When talking to your children about their grandparent with Alzheimer’s, you’ll want to tailor your conversation to their ages, relationship to the grandparent and their ability to understand.
The following suggestions may help:
- Remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all conversation. Personalize your explanation for different age groups. A teenager will be better able to grasp what changes are happening in the brain than a five year old.
- Be as straightforward as possible and keep your explanations short but clear. For a younger child you may want to simply say that, “grandma’s illness makes it hard for her to remember things.”
- Answer all of their questions honestly. From the questions they ask, you’ll also gain a better idea of their level of understanding.
- Let them know that it’s normal to feel sad or angry that this has happened and that it’s hard on everyone in the family.
- It’s no one’s fault. Make sure the young children understand that this illness was not caused by anything they did. Explain that no one is at fault.
- Pay attention to any changes you may see in your children’s behavior. This may be how the child is coping with the loss of the relationship that they once had.
- Teenagers can feel just as bad about what is happening to their grandparent but may be more uncomfortable about their behavior. Don’t force them to spend time with the grandparent.
Grandparents and Alzheimer’s: tips for visiting
When planning a visit between children and their grandparent with Alzheimer’s, the following advice may help their time together go smoother and be meaningful for them both:
- Plan ahead for the best chance of successful interactions
- Ask the primary caregiver what activities the grandparent usually enjoys
- Ask the primary caregiver what time of day is typically best for a visit
- Prepare your children prior to the visit about what they might expect
- Reassure them that you will also be there and that there is nothing to be afraid of
Activities for grandparents and grandchildren to share
Plan for a few activities to try in case the first one doesn’t work. Remember to be flexible and adjust if needed to best fit the abilities of the child and the grandparent.
Here are a few activity suggestions to consider:
- Bring supplies to work on a simple arts and crafts project.
- Listen to music or sing a favorite song together.
- Bring old photo albums and look through past memories.
- Read short stories together.
- Play with modeling clay or Play Dough.
- Bake cookies together with supervision.
- Bring in different photos and make a family tree with posterboard.
- Take a walk together outside, with another adult joining in.
- Plant flowers or a small garden that can be regularly visited and enjoyed.
- Go to a park, sit on a bench and people-watch while enjoying the sunshine.
- For dog-lovers, go to a dog park and watch the dogs run and play.
- Have a picnic, in the park, backyard or outside area.
Source: National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association
Other tips for parents to help their children better understand
The Alzheimer’s Association has some great suggestions for parents to help both teenagers and younger children understand cognitive illnesses. You may want to visit their website for ideas on books or videos that are especially helpful for children.
Preparing your children for interacting with their grandparent can remove a lot of the fear or uncertainty that they may be feeling.
Remind your children that their grandparent may not want to do the activity you planned so you may have to try something else. If their grandparent is not feeling well or becomes agitated or frustrated, you may need to reschedule the visit.
Life at Tapestry Memory Care communities
We understand the challenges for families when their loved one is living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. Our staff is specially trained in the best practices and ways to connect with our residents. But we are also here as a resource to their families and can help support you in navigating visits between grandchildren and their grandparents.
If your loved one’s care needs are beginning to exceed the ability of the family to provide for, we hope you will consider memory care at one of our communities. We know this isn’t always an easy decision to make and we are here to answer any questions that you may have.
Our person-centered approach, services, amenities and activities all play an important role in helping your loved one and your family live a meaningful and connected life.
If you would like more information about a possible move to senior living, we invite you to download our free guide and resource on how to decide between home and senior living, Should You Stay or Should You Go?
If you have any questions or would like to schedule a personal tour, please contact one of our advisors at a community near you.