The same emotions that adults feel when first discovering that a loved one or family member has been diagnosed with dementia are often similar to what young children and teenagers will experience during the process. Coping with a diagnosis is often much harder on young people, but their emotional needs often get overlooked. In addition to working through your own emotions and challenges, it is important to make an extra effort with kids and teenagers who find a grandparent, parent, or other relative dealing with dementia.
Remember There Is No Perfect Solution
The symptoms and severity of dementia vary by individual, and so do the responses and understanding of the condition in children and teenagers. It is normal for young people to feel embarrassed or scared by the behaviors they see or to feel sad about the changes in the way things used to be. It’s common for kids or teenagers to go through a period of guilt over their past behaviors towards a loved one or feel angry about why this is happening. They may feel confused about the disease and feel incapable of treating their loved ones normally.
This roller coaster of responses can affect their social life, academic performance, family connectivity, and physical health if not addressed. There is no perfect approach to talking about dementia with your children or teenager, as you must do what is comfortable and age-appropriate. The key is to open the conversation and find ways to address dementia with children positively.
Begin With an Explanation
The easiest way to open the conversation is to explain the disease in simple terms and with enough information to answer questions. Younger children need conversations that are general and simple. Teenagers can absorb more but don’t overwhelm them with details all at one time. Make conversations about the diagnosis an activity that happens regularly, allowing your children to talk about their fears, their emotions or to ask questions that have been bottled up inside.
Don’t expect your kids to understand or adjust right away. Give them time to realize how things may look different in the future. Be patient and be available. While you should provide emotional support for your children, it is okay for you to be vulnerable and share your own emotions and feelings concerning the diagnosis. This can reassure your children that it is okay to open up about what they are struggling with.
Create a Path for Healing
Your kids need to understand the reality of dementia and what to expect from grandma or grandpa, but you also need to give them a reason to stay positive and hopeful. Let your children know that they are a part of a special type of healing for their loved one, making the journey through dementia less scary and frustrating. You can do this by engaging your children or teenagers in activities that help preserve positive memories of their loved ones.
- Print off old family photos and make a scrapbook that they can look through with their loved ones.
- Accompany their loved ones on a walk through the house, neighborhood, or residence.
- Read their loved one’s favorite magazines or books out loud to them.
- Color pictures or make crafts to decorate their loved one’s room.
- Sit and watch old movies that are favorites of their loved ones.
Carefully listening to your child will let them know you care that they are struggling. Let them know that it is okay to go through good days and bad days. Remind them that this journey is going to have ups and downs. This is a great way to remind your children of the struggle their loved one is also facing. Drawing the correlations between the two can develop an empathy for the loved one dealing with the diagnosis.
Explain the Options
Your child or teenager may feel overwhelmed by the level of care they think their loved one will need. This isn’t their burden to bear, and it doesn’t have to be yours, either. At Caring Places Management, we offer several different communities and special programs for patients who deal with dementia. While it is common for people to feel like they are abandoning their loved ones in a time of need, choosing Caring Places as a residence program shows how much you care about their well-being.
Your loved one can participate in life enrichment activities, brain music sessions, brain-building activities, life skills stations, and enjoy socializing with their peers. They are given expert care while being encouraged to live as independently as possible. You and your children can visit and continue your involvement with your loved one, providing the best of both worlds in dementia care.