How to Talk to Kids about Alzheimer’s

Today’s guest post has been written by Theona Combos. Opinions expressed are those of the author. Find out more about the author in the bio at the bottom of this post.

Alzheimer’s is a complex disease which affects people in different ways and the timing of its effects cannot be predicted. As the disease progresses, the person living with dementia goes through emotions ranging from confusion to fear and much worse. They face ever increasing challenges every day. The pieces of daily life are slowly taken away. It cannot be stopped and there is yet no cure.

  • It is difficult for adults to come to terms with what is happening to their loved one, so how do you explain all this to a child?
  • How do you encourage a child to ask the questions that adults may also be thinking but hesitate to ask?
  • How do you answer those questions to help a child understand and take away their fear of the unknown?

puzzle 1I use the analogy of a jigsaw puzzle. Most kids love puzzles and it’s something they can relate to. A jigsaw puzzle is made by placing individual pieces together until a whole picture is created, making it complete. Imagine that this jigsaw is similar to the human brain, which is also made up of a number of pieces that all connect in their own specific way.

With Alzheimer’s disease, pieces of the brain no longer work and slowly die, just like taking away pieces of the puzzle, one at a time. When the first puzzle piece is taken away, this can represent how the person has forgotten your name, or what day it is or what the time is.

puzzle3The next piece removed may be how the person forgets how to use the phone, turn the TV on, cut some fruit or make a cup of tea. As the child understands what is happening to their loved one, these situations provide excellent opportunities for them to become involved.

Depending on their age, abilities (and safety concerns), they can learn to help. Even if it’s a small task like selecting a TV channel with the remote, they will feel involved, instead of feeling left out.
In this way you also prepare the child for future decline of the person living with Alzheimer’s. Step by step, day by day.

puzzle2As the disease progresses, the person keeps losing more and more pieces out of their full picture of life. They gradually get sicker and sicker. As more pieces are removed, everyday life becomes more difficult, and they need more help.

In Summary:

  1. Be Honest
  2. Use an activity the child enjoys as a metaphor – like the puzzle
  3. Teach them how more than just memory is lost
  4. Prepare them for the many changes they will see
  5. Let them be involved – they will let you know what they need by their questions and their actions
  6. Listen to the child and support their understanding
  7. Most of all, for now be the best role model for them that you can be, one day they may be your carers.

A Note from Theona…
The story above is meant to be an introduction of this complex topic for children. There is so much more to be written with potential for further discussion on each of the seven points mentioned in the summary. I am happy to elaborate on each of these in future posts. Which is why I’m (slowly) writing a book, and all suggestions are welcome.

Thank you.

Theona Combos
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Theona Combos

Theona, a qualified life coach and trainer, with first-hand experience with her mum’s Alzheimer’s, is now raising awareness about dementia, and fundraising with husband Pete to help scientists find a cure.
Theona Combos
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