Alzheimer's Foundation of America


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Education and Care

Communicating with Children

When Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia affects their loved ones, children often get swept up in an overwhelming feeling of emotional loss.

In general, several factors may impact the intensity of a child’s response. For one, the closer the child’s relationship with a loved one, the greater the response will likely be. Another contributor is the degree to which Alzheimer’s disease has affected a loved one’s memory, communication skills and other behaviors. There could be a big difference in a child’s response, for example, if a grandparent mixes up the grandchild’s name versus not having any idea that this is a grandchild. In addition, the verbal and non-verbal reactions of other family members can influence how youngsters may react.

Children state their emotions in various ways. Some clues that children are having difficulty with their loved one’s condition may include:

  • Reluctance to go to school or problems at school
  • A new mystery illness
  • Resisting previously-enjoyable activities
  • Becoming self-absorbed
  • Anger, sadness, fear, frustration
  • Agitation, nervousness
  • Depression-generally, boys will express this by outward aggression and girls will exhibit withdrawing behaviors.

Age-appropriate education about Alzheimer’s disease, reassurance and some creative techniques related to a child’s world can help youngsters overcome fears and work through their overall feelings of loss.

Here are some helpful tips:

  • In encouraging children to communicate with loved ones with Alzheimer's disease, use the ABC's. "A" is for articulate-speak slowly and clearly, and use simple words. "B" is for body language-point to things to give visual cues, smile and use gentle touch. "C" is for care-use a calm and friendly tone to provide reassurance and show you care.
  • Determine how you can involve children in age-appropriate caregiving tasks, while encouraging them to continue their normal routines. Young children often can relate to a person with limited verbal ability. Teenagers often feel valued if they are offered an opportunity to spend time with the person or share some responsibilities.
  • Teach children new ways to interact with their loved ones. Holding hands, touching, hugging, and using humor will sometimes trigger a response when all else failed. Playing games, singing songs and looking through photos makes for quality time together.
  • Explore the numerous children’s books written about dementia as a way to open the door to a discussion. Ask a librarian for suggestions.
  • Teens can connect with other teens, ask questions, share feelings, and get involved in community activities via the teenage branch of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America at www.afateens.org.
  • Find out about local support groups for children or teenagers. Having peer support and an outlet to express emotions can help them cope with the situation.

For more information, connect with the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America’s licensed social workers. Click here or call 866.232.8484. Real People. Real Care.