Coping Across Generations:
Helping Younger Generations
Having a parent with Alzheimer’s is as much of an emotional battle as it is a physical one. Not only does this disease test the physical strength of those supporting a loved one with (as well as those battling) Alzheimer’s, but it also puts an enormous amount of strain on everybody’s emotions. Alzheimer’s is also, unfortunately, a family disease.
No, I’m not talking genetics here—I’m referring to the fact that Alzheimer’s affects (in some way, shape, or form) every family member of the afflicted loved one. While it is generally second nature to think of the daughters, sons, and spouses of those diagnosed with the disease, there is a key group of folks that can be easily (yet very unintentionally) overlooked. Younger children either directly related to (grandkids, nieces, nephews, etc.) or close friends of a loved one with Alzheimer’s face a battle of their own. Fortunately, there are a couple of things that we, as adults, can do to help young ones adapt to a loved one’s recent diagnosis.
Share the diagnosis—and be honest
Being honest with children about what is going on with their loved one is essential. Of course, keep the level of information relevant to the age and abilities of the child. If you are explaining the situation to a teenager, let them know that their loved one has Alzheimer’s, and explain the ramifications of the disease. Be prepared for specific questions that may be difficult to answer (Will grandpa/grandma die? Are they in pain? Is it curable?). Honesty is the best policy—teens are smart, and the information will help them process things emotionally.
Conversely, if you are explaining the situation to a young child, keep the descriptions brief and broad—yet still accurate. Let them know that grandma/grandpa is sick, and tell them the name of the disease. Prepare a kid-friendly explanation of what it does (like letting them know it will make grandma forgetful and that she won’t be able to play as much), and be ready for questions. Usually, younger children ask things like—Will I get it too?—because they often equate “being sick” with having a cold. Again, be honest (No, you won’t get it too, grandma is a different kind of sick…)—it’s really the best way to go.
Acknowledge and validate their feelings
This is a tough situation for adults and kids alike, so as an adult, it is important to acknowledge the struggle. Recognize that it’s a hard time, and let the kids know that it’s okay to feel the way that they do. Children may feel a variety of emotions; pain, confusion, fear, and anger. It is important to note that no emotion is wrong. Teens and young children alike may feel embarrassed by/resentment towards their sick loved ones—let them know that it’s okay. Though it would be tempting to condemn these feelings—resist that urge, and rather, work with the child to help overcome these feelings. Being open to communication will help both you and the younger kids grow into an emotionally better place.
Making the assumption that teens or younger children won’t notice/don’t care about/won’t understand an Alzheimer’s diagnoses is a misconception that can end up hurting them in the long run. It is essential to remember that as time goes on, emotions and feelings may change. Just because a child felt one way a few months ago doesn’t mean that they feel the same way now. Make sure to spend time checking in emotionally with them, especially as the disease progresses. Pick a neutral time and location (like while making dinner or walking the dog) to open the door for communication about their loved one.
Coping with Alzheimer’s is a group effort. I encourage you to remember the young ones involved and affected by the diagnosis of a loved one. Helping create stability in the young, impressionable years of a kid’s life will allow them to foster a lifetime support group with benefits beyond the scope of current struggles.
Madison Hill is a freelance writer with an astronomy obsession. When she’s not making homemade kreplach with her mother, you can find her painting and writing about homecare