When someone's ability to remember is failing, everyone in the family feels it. Even though they're not generally involved in the difficult decisions and daily care, children can be impacted by Alzheimer's and dementia very profoundly. Here are a few ways to help them cope:
1. Discuss The Alzheimer's In Private With Your Kids
In a setting everyone finds comfortable, ask your children for their observations of the situation and what questions they may have. It's important for them to be aware of facts, so they can separate themselves from the fear associated with a memory loss crisis. Even little ones should understand that there's a real medical explanation behind the changes taking place in a loved one. It's easy for a kid to think they've done something wrong, particularly if the relative diagnosed with Alzheimer's of dementia is lashing out, even if it's not at them directly.
2. Limit Their Exposure To Grown Up Matters
No matter how important honesty is when facing such a family emergency, it's also vital that your children be shielded from what they don't need to know about. Disputes over financial arrangements, who's taking charge of the family and the long-term prognosis of the relative (with memory loss) shouldn't be something the kids feel burdened about. Also, kids shouldn't have to see their grandma or grandpa in an undignified manner, if it's at all avoidable.
3. Bring Them On Visits To The Nursing Home Or Assisted Living Facility
Call ahead of time so that staff is expecting visitors and can prepare for them. Memory care patients may need extra looking after when it comes time to things like wardrobe, hair, and room tidiness. If staff is prepared, you should be able to limit exposing your children to the more personal aspects of the situation, focusing instead on the simple joy of seeing each other. Unless the situation is grave, the loved one with memory issues and the children should mutually benefit from being able to see each other.
4. Plan Activities Everyone Can Participate In
Even if you're trying to keep visits short and sweet, have some kind of activity planned in which everyone can be involved. Take turns telling something about school, work, and social activities or update your loved one on news and entertainment going on in the world. Music plays an important role in the lives of people dealing with memory loss, so bring or leave a radio in the room. Something as simple as your five year old singing the first verse of "You Are My Sunshine" could also make the visit more memorable, beneficial, and beautiful; just encourage everyone to give a little of themselves to the family circle.
5. Ask The Kids To Talk About How They Feel
As the situation progresses, it's good for the kids to talk about how it makes them feel. They could be sad, scared, or even angry that this is all happening to someone they care about, someone who once was active, able, and so very different from how they are now. Talking is healthy and healing, even if it's coming from a young person who can barely grasp the concepts of the condition of memory loss.
6. Make Sure You're Okay, Too
Watching the memory, vitality, and cognitive abilities drained from a loved one is probably one of the hardest things you'll go through in life, but it's compounded when your children go through it with you. This emotionally overwhelming experience is a heavy burden to bear, so make sure you take extra good care of yourself at this time, too. You still need strength and energy to keep up with your kids and their lives, no matter what else is going on. If needed, consider speaking with a counselor, to relieve some of the pressure you're under. Hire a sitter once in a while, to give you a little time away from the situation and have a friend or two to lean on as you push through the family tragedy before you.
As devastating as memory issues are for coping families, the affected children must be included in the circle of caring. They'll know something very heavy is going on around them anyway and bringing them in can make everyone stronger, most especially, the loved one facing the loss of their cognitive faculties.