Why do teens get especially upset about their grandparents' Alzheimer's disease?

5 answers | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

My teenagers, 13 and 17, seem to be really unable to deal with my mother's Alzheimer's disease. They no longer want to visit her, and I think they don't even see her as the same person any more. Should I force the issue? She's still their grandmother.

Expert Answers

A social worker and geriatric consultant who specializes in dementia care, Joyce Simard is based in Land O' Lakes, Florida, and in Prague. She is a well-known speaker and has written two books, one focusing on end-of-life care and the other, entitled The Magic Tape Recorder, explaining aging, memory loss, and how children can be helpers to their elders.

The disconnection may be less about your mother than about the kids themselves. Teenagers are going through so many emotional issues at this developmental stage that their grandmother's altered personality may be just one more thing they're having trouble dealing with. They may have too much going on in their lives to try to understand what's happening with her or to process the many emotions her Alzheimer's brings up. The disease can cause kids to feel embarrassed, scared, sad, baffled, or lonely, especially if they were once close with your mother.

Try talking with each child individually. Alone, they're more likely to voice individual questions and may feel more comfortable making their own decisions about their interactions with her. Try probing about exactly what makes them uneasy: that they don't understand what's happening to her memory? That they aren't sure how to react when visiting her?

Some guidance from you can help. Explain that when Grandma repeats herself, it's like when you don't click on "save" when you're writing something on your computer. The words -- or in this case the memory of what she just said -- are lost. Tell your teens that it's OK to just smile and repeat her words or move on to another subject.

It's also possible your teens are wary of something unexpected happening, especially if they've witnessed an outburst that upset them. Fortunately these events are pretty rare. They usually happen because the person has become very frustrated with something. Coach your kids; if it happens again, they should say something like, "I'm so sorry that you're upset, can I help you?" or simply, "Grandma I love you so much, can we have some ice cream?" (or choose something else she enjoys.) This makes the point that your child cares, and it changes the situation. Tell your kids to walk away and get help if the outburst continues. Let them know that within a few minutes, the impaired person usually forgets the episode.

Ultimately, it's not a good idea to push your kids to see their grandmother. Nobody really wins in that situation. It's better if you continue to offer opportunities to visit -- but without pressuring them. That way, when they're ready, they will join you.

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...
I so clearly remember my own reaction as a young adult to my own grandmother's Alzheimer's affliction. At that time, it was more commonly called "senile dementia." I did not understand that it was an insidious disease that caused her angry outbursts and irrational paranoia--and I resented her inability to "get it together" because I did not understand that it was a physical impairment that caused her to be unable to reason clearly or regain acuity. I even angrily told my own mother "If you ever start acting that way I'll put you in a home so fast your head will spin." Of course, as a more mature and knowledgeable adult--now taking care of my mother who (thankfully) is showing only the slightest cognitive/memory degradation at age 80--I have a much more sympathetic understanding of the condition.

Joyg answered...

Don't force them to visit. It is known that patients read emotions very well, even when you think that they are not listening or cannot hear. They "feel" you and might get upset. Try instead to give your boyts ways to visit without physical presence. My husband loves cards where people record their own voices. We play them over and over. Have them tape what's happening in their lives on a tape recorder once a week. Make it a family update tape. Play it for your mother. Have them purchase flowers that you can take to your mother. In otherwords, give them opportunities for other ways to express their love.

over and over.

Terrysmith700 answered...

I have two sisters - both in their 50's who don't deal well with our mothers illness. My grown son works through his emotions of having been very close to her and helps me with her care. However, my grandchildren 14, 10, 3, and 1 all deal with her differently. The three year old grandson gets the worst of it - he has to always remind her that he is a boy - she always refers to him as a girl and it frustrates his little life. I would never try to force anyone to deal inside this very emotional issue. Each person must manage their own emotions. I only insist that the children be respectful because no matter what they see or her she is my mother and I love her, that's what I tell them.

Joan-3 answered...

I just did not see or accept my moms problem for a long time.. others tried to tell me but it was new and I did not under stand.... the grandchildren were able to handle her change a lot better than myself. Now, I am facing the start of it in my husband and I get mad..before I remember HE can not help it. The kids who remember Grandma well get after me and show him more love.