As a caregiver, looking after a loved one with dementia can be difficult and stressful. Add a caregiver’s own children to the mix, and it can be even more overwhelming. Dementia-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease can be difficult for anyone to understand, especially a young child. It is important to speak to your child about the situation, even before they ask. Doing so can be the key to a happier home life.
Children are incredibly perceptive. While it’s difficult for them to process the reasons surrounding the change in their environment, they can easily sense it. They can notice a loved one behaving or treating them differently. Children may be too embarrassed or confused to address the issue, or unsure of how to bring it up. In the early stages of the dementia, you should set aside plenty of time to speak to your child about the changes occurring. This can be a sensitive and difficult topic, and you don’t want yourself or your child to feel rushed or pressured. Before this conversation, prepare what you are going to say. This can prevent emotional outbursts or a loss for words. You should also be ready to repeat and re-explain yourself. Depending on the age of the child, it could take multiple explanations for them to understand a concept such as dementia.
Once you’ve mentally prepared and set aside time for a talk with your child, there are certain subjects you want to address. For a child, being around someone who has a dementia-related disorder can be difficult since the child will be facing role-reversal. This individual, perhaps a grandparent, used to be the one who looked after them. Now the child is expected to be a member of the responsible party – a disconcerting situation for any youngster. Even if the child has already noticed a change in behavior, they should be aware that there are more drastic changes to come. They should also be aware that there is going to be a change in schedule, and that much of your time will be taken up in the care of your elderly loved one. One of the most important topics you need to address and emphasize is that you still love and care about them just as much as you always have. Attention, to children, is a primary way of showing love. With your busy schedule, you will probably have less attention to give. It is imperative that they realize you do not love them any less because you have less time to give.
Be sure to emphasize that the dementia is not the fault of the child, or the result of anything they may have done. Children have a tendency to take blame for stressful situations in the family, drawing on memories of being rebuked or disciplined for misbehaving. Assure the child that they cannot “catch” the disease and shouldn’t be fretful about being around their elderly loved one. Use simple phrases and terms to explain how the individual became ill, such as, “their thinking has slowed down,” and, “it is difficult for them to remember names and places.” Offer plenty of practical examples, such as explaining to the child that the individual may even forget their name, or who they are. Lastly, give the child an opportunity to react to the information you’ve just given them. Ask them how they are feeling. This way, you can see if your child has understood what you’ve explained.
At the end of your talk, ask the child if they would be willing to help with any caregiving duties. Let them you would love for them to learn how to care for their loved one. Giving a child this sort of responsibility can give them a sense of pride along with a closer bond to you and the person they are caring for. Let the child assist in situations that are more relaxed so they do not associate caring for their loved one with stress and strife. Most importantly, recognize and appreciate the child constantly for their efforts and understanding.
Caring for a loved one with dementia in addition to young children can be overwhelming for anyone. Keep the lines of communication open, and try to set aside special times to spend with just you and your child. Now, take a deep breath, smile, and remind yourself: you can do this!