Helping children deal with dementia
Today’s blog post comes from Michelle Chaffee – Founder & CEO Älska – a caregiving tool that empowers and connects patients and their care community.
It’s a struggle for adults to deal with a loved one who has dementia. It is not uncommon for those adults, assisting their mother or father with dementia, to also be caring for children of their own. In this situation, thinking about the unique perspective of the child can get lost in the struggle but it is very important to understand that children are impacted too.
Both the child and the adult with dementia can benefit from a continued, loving relationship when the right resources and support are in place. Guiding your child and keeping them involved while also allowing them the distance and time they need to adjust to the challenges of dementia, can make all the difference.
It’s not their fault. Children are inclined to believe they have more responsibility or control over outcomes than you may realize. It is very important to explain to them that the way their loved one is behaving and the challenges associated with dementia have not been caused by anything they have done. Reassure them that unusual behaviors or conversations are caused by the disease and answer any questions they have. Take cues from them as to how much or how little they want to know at any given time. They may take in some information, process it over time and come back to you with additional questions. Let them know this is perfectly normal and encourage their conversations or concerns.
Don’t push. While letting them know it is absolutely fine to hug or touch their loved one the way they always have, tell them it is also fine to hold back if they aren’t comfortable. Pushing a child to give physical affection when they are not comfortable may cause them to avoid interactions completely. It may simply take time for them to feel comfortable and understand grandpa or grandma is still the same person they have been. This is especially true if there are times of aggression or agitation that seem to have no real predictable cause. Let the child know it is okay to keep a distance if that is what they feel at the time. Do not accept abusive behavior. If abusive behavior is exhibited, simply take some time away and return when the agitation has dissipated.
Talk about the good times. Initiate conversations about all the happy times you have enjoyed with your loved one. Remind children of loving memories they have shared and point out moments when the things they love most about their loved one are still apparent. Adjusting the focus to the heart and soul of the important person in their life rather than the power of the disease serves a dual purpose of honoring the life and accomplishments of the individual and their relationships as well as reassuring the child they were and are loved and important.
Utilize resources. Look for support groups specifically for children in your community. There are also a number of books written for children such as:
– “Always My Grandpa” by Linda Scacco and Nicole Wong
– “What’s Happening to Grandpa” by Maria Shriver and Sandra Speidel
– “Striped Shirts and Flowered Pants” by Barbara Schnurbush and Carry Pillo