Discovering a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's is difficult for anyone to understand, but it may be harder for your children to comprehend.
But that doesn't mean the conversation should be avoided - it's very important to keep them informed as their loved one goes through this stage of life. Talking to your children about Alzheimer's will not only keep them cognizant, it will also prepare them for what the future may hold.
"There may be a tendency to shield children from loved ones who have memory loss," said Rita Altman, senior vice president of Memory Care & Program Services at Sunrise. "However, with the right education, children benefit greatly from helping to care for those with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. Similarly, adults can be inspired by children, who seem to have the intuitive gifts that make them wonderful caregivers."
Keeping your children informed will help build stronger bonds in your family. Read on to learn how to begin the conversation, reactions to expect and ways to educate your kids even further:
How to start the discussion
Having the initial discussion will be intimidating at first, but it's important to reach out to your children as soon as possible. This allows them to get a better understanding of what's going on. Make sure they know that the whole family is in it together - the emotions, the misunderstandings, the frustrations and the concerns - you're all in the same boat. Here are a few tips for starting the conversation:
- Explain what's going on. Tell your children exactly what their loved one is going through. Be as clear and concise as possible. Try to avoid showing strong emotions to keep the situation calm.
- Give examples of what might change. Discuss new behaviors your children might see in their loved one, such as forgetfulness and a change in personality.
- Focus on the positives. After explaining what might change, be sure to shift the focus towards what your loved one can still do.
- Turn it into an open discussion. Give your children a chance to ask questions and express their feelings. Listen closely and carefully to their reactions and do your best to think of the situation from their perspective.
Expect multiple reactions
Your children may cope with a loved one's Alzheimer's diagnosis differently. Some examples include:
- Feeling anxious about what the future holds for their loved one.
- Showing signs of grief and sadness, which may occur sporadically.
- Feeling embarrassed if their loved one is acting strange out in public.
- Expressing anger or irritation if they feel they cannot help the situation.
If you notice your children conveying any of these emotions, Eric J. Hall, chairman of the Alzheimer's Global Initiative, said it's critical to embrace each and every one of these feelings. Give them a chance to express their concerns so you can talk about ways to cope as a family. It's important they understand that although the situation is out of their control, positivity is key.
After having the initial discussion, your children may still have questions about Alzheimer's. Providing them with educational resources can help them get a better understanding of what the disease is, how the family can come together and in what ways they can help bring positivity to any situation. The Alzheimer's Association and the National Institute on Aging have supplied a number of helpful resources for young kids and teenagers.
Encourage your kids to maintain a healthy relationship their loved one
One of the best coping mechanisms your children can use is building and maintaining an even stronger relationship with their loved one, according to Barbara Stratton, licensed marriage and family therapist.
"Children cope better when they feel like they are contributing in some way," she told the Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation. "No matter what the chosen activity or routine, when children believe they are needed, perform tasks that people depend on and have a place to belong, they can overcome any challenge."
Remember: Being honest with your children will help them handle the situation. Leave the conversation open at all times so your kids always feel comfortable asking questions.
Source: Sunrise Senior Living