vast majority of people with dementia are elderly, in many cases there
are young children and adolescents in the household or close by who are
strongly affected by the illness of someone they love. It could be their
grandparent who is affected by the disease or, in early-onset cases, their
own parent. At a time when they are trying to cope with their own growing
up, they find they also have to cope with a family member who is ill.
The most important
thing you can do to help your children or grandchildren cope with dementia
is to be willing to listen and communicate. They need the opportunity to
ask questions and express their feelings without fear of repercussion or
rejection. A non-judgmental atmosphere will help them to become more comfortable
with discussions of the painful changes taking place in their lives.
young children may not be able to take in too much information at one time
- keep it simple and try to respond to their questions at their own level.
are often good at expressing themselves and their feelings, but don't be
surprised if they do not initiate discussion. Watch for clues in their
behaviour that something is on their mind and then try to talk openly.
Some young people may have problems talking with parents because they don't
want to worry them or are afraid of making them sad or being a burden.
They may prefer to talk to their peers or to counsellors.
will react differently depending upon their age and stage of development
and on how important the person with dementia is in their lives and how
often they interact with that person.
CHILDREN MAY ASK:
- what's happening
to Grandpa or Grandma (or even to a parent)?
- why is it
- why can't
medicine make them better?
- did I do
something to make them sick?
- will I or
my parents get it, too?
- will they
- who will
take care of me?
- what can
I do to make them better?
- why is everyone
always so sad and angry?
- why can't
things be the way they were?
PEOPLE MAY FEEL:
sense of responsibility
to take responsibility
CHILDREN MAY EXHIBIT:
- staying away from the house as much as possible, refusing to visit the
person with dementia;
- acting out
- radical changes of behaviour such as staying out late or using drugs;
suicidal tendencies or talking about how he or she might as well be dead;
everything is great - putting on a happy face;
- having psychosomatic
illnesses - such as repeated headaches or stomach aches;
- sleep disturbances
- insomnia, nightmares, sleeping during the day;
- eating disorders
- overeating or refusing to eat;
poorly at school;
- running away
- the home situation may become too much;
- wanting the
person with dementia to disappear - talking about how life would be better
if they were no longer around
- Let your
child or grandchild know that you care and that you understand and know
this is tough on them as well.
- Give them
permission to say what they really feel - don't be afraid of their feelings
or your own.
- Help them
confront and deal with their worst fears - sometimes these fears may be
unrealistic but they are certainly very real to the child.
- Try to maintain
as much family structure as possible - continue to do some of the things
you used to do as a family as this will give your children a feeling of
security and self-confidence.
- Try to spend
some time with your child each day - it is important that they continue
to have separate time when they are the focus of your attention.
- Make family
plans and carry them out - persist, even though you may not get overwhelming
enthusiasm for your suggestions.
- If you are
the primary carer of your spouse or parent with dementia, access respite
care services to give yourself a break, as well as your children.
teenagers to get on with their own lives and make their own plans.
- Deal with
conflicts and problems - don't brush them under the rug.
- Set aside
special times when the family can discuss responsibilities and problems,
but try not to make "helping" the overriding concern.
- Notify your
child's teacher or school counsellor that there is a serious illness affecting
a family member - check with the school from time to time to see if the
child has experienced problems you may not have heard about.
- Take care
of yourself so that your child does not think that you might get sick,
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