Explaining Alzheimer's to Children
How to Explain Alzheimer's to Kids
If you have a parent, other family member, or close friend who has Alzheimer's disease or some other form of dementia, it affects not only you; it has an impact on your children, too. The time Grandma blanked on your son's name? Those overheard long, worried phone conversations with your family about your aunt?
Kids notice more than we give them credit for. They may not understand exactly what's wrong, or they might mishear "Alzheimer's" as "old timer's" disease, but they deserve being included in the situation in an age-appropriate way.
The following suggestions for filling in your kids come from Joyce Simard, a geriatric consultant in Land O' Lakes, Florida, who self-published a children's book called The Magic Tape Recorder: A Story About Growing Up and Growing Down. You can adapt these suggestions to the age of your children.
Explain Alzheimer's in ways your children can understand
Alzheimer's is a big word that may not mean much to kids, and "disease" can sound like something catching (which it isn't). So simplify: "Grandma has a memory problem." Or, "George has a disease that is sort of like if you had a tape recorder in your head, but the tape recorder is turned off. When he was younger, the tape recorder was on, so he remembers a lot of things from his past."
Put the disease in perspective for a younger child. Ask, "Are you really good at everything? Well, sometimes people aren't very good at memory." Explain that lots of people have problems when they get older -- sometimes you need glasses, sometimes it's a cane or a walker. Sometimes you can't remember. It doesn't mean you can't do anything anymore.
A teenager is ready for more details, for example that Grandma could wander away from the house and get lost. Be matter-of-fact: "This is a problem Grandma has, but don't be afraid of it."