Teach children to deal with Dementia
When a grandparent has dementia, it is often difficult for a grandchild to understand. Yet it is important that children, no matter how young they are, understand what is going on. By being open about dementia and using the advice below, you can help your (grand) child to accept it and deal with it.
Explain what is going on
If a grandparent or other family member with dementia exhibits abnormal behaviour, children usually notice this. Some will ask why grandfather or grandmother does this; others silently develop their own theory about it. Why is she acting so strange? Why can I no longer do with her what I always did with her? If you do not explain to a child that grandma is sick, it can become anxious or angry, become uninterested, feel left out or take the blame on itself. It is important to take the time to talk to your (grand) child about dementia. Keep in mind his age and the associated comprehension and perception.
For a small child, it is probably enough to say that grandma does differently because of an illness in her head and that she cannot help it. For example, you can explain to older children about what is happening in her brain. You can tell them that the causes of dementia are not yet established and that the disease is incurable, but not contagious. You can also explain how difficult it is for your loved one to remember an event, name or word, to find the way back, or to recognize an object. In this way your (grand) child learns to understand the situation.
Try to reassure your (grand) child
Younger children often tend to put the blame on themselves, although they won’t say that out loud. So, ask what your (grand) child thinks about the situation, what makes him worried or anxious. Emphasize that no one can do anything about your loved ones dementia. Discussing other emotions is also good. Your (grand) child may be afraid of what is to come, or sad for the fact that your loved one is less and less interested in him or her. Perhaps there is shame or annoyance about the changed behaviour of your loved one or a feeling of powerlessness. Explain that these are understandable and normal feelings that do not need to be disguised.
Make it clear that dementia is not contagious and that the chance of heredity is very small. This way you can remove any worries or fears. Try to be positive and encourage him or her to find a way to interact with your loved one and stay in touch. Children are often surprisingly creative and spontaneous in their communication with people with dementia.
‘I was on my mobile and suddenly grandma came to watch. She never did that otherwise. I have shown her all YouTube videos that made her laugh hard. That was really cool. “
Be alert for unspoken signs
Everyone treats bad news or setbacks differently. Sometimes it takes a little more effort to get into a conversation with your (grand) child. Many young children do not want to burden their (grand) parents with their feelings and fears. Older children often find it difficult to talk about their feelings. If you have the feeling that there is more then your (grand) dares or wants to show, be alert to the following signals:
- poor sleep, suffering from nightmares, inexplicable pains or sudden annoying behaviour;
- difficulty concentrating at school;
- gloomy and easy in tears;
- often isolates itself;
- remarkably little interest in the situation;
- caring behaviour in a way that does not suit his age.
These signals can be a reason to pay extra attention to your (grand) child and to discuss the situation openly with each other. It probably also helps if you share your own feelings and concerns and tell how you deal with them. Also let it be known that you still love your (grand) child unabated, even though you may now be less available due to the care for your loved one.
Involve your environment about the situation
Is your child very involved in your loved one’s illness? Or are there tensions in the family because care requires a lot of time and attention? Then this can have an impact on your child. For example, children may have learning or behavioural problems at school. Certainly, as children get older, they suffer more from the concerns that play within the family. It is therefore important that the environment of your (grand) child knows about the situation. Changes in behaviour or well-being are then noticed more quickly.
Include your (grand) child in the care of your loved one
(Grand) children may feel excluded when it comes to caring for your loved one with dementia. So, try to come up with ways to get them involved, without asking too much of them. A few tips:
- Emphasize that it is very nice and important for your loved one when your (grand) child is with her and shows that he loves her.
- Think of fun activities that they can do together, such as taking a walk, playing a game, listening to music, colouring or making a scrapbook.
- Tell about how your loved one was before she became ill. Show photos and videos.
- Take photos of your (grand) child and your loved one together, so that he / she becomes aware that there are also nice moments together, despite the illness.
- Show your (grand) child that you and your loved one appreciate what he or she does.
- Make sure that your (grand) child does not end up in a situation whereby your loved one feels confused or annoyed. If this does happen, talk about it afterwards and explain what happened, so that there is no fear.
- Never leave your (grand) child alone with your loved one if you are not entirely sure that they both can handle this.
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