Help kids engage with kindness and care
Many children enjoy a special bond with their grandparents. If they are lucky enough to have them, grandparents are a valuable outer ring of the nuclear family. They are often able to offer the best elements of parenting (love, support, attention, and the occasional treat) with fewer of the downsides (such as being the disciplinarian).
This special relationship, however, can shift dramatically when a grandparent has dementia. Some 50 million people around the world are living with dementia, which – the World Health Organization (WHO) explains – includes several diseases that affect a person’s memory and other cognitive abilities, and can significantly inhibit a person’s ability to maintain their independence.
How can you support your child’s understanding and their interaction with grandparents who may be experiencing cognitive decline and memory gaps?
Claudia Andrews is an occupational therapist at Livewell, a specialised dementia care facility.
From both her personal and professional experiences, Claudia says children are usually very adaptable and able to cope with the changes introduced by dementia – if they are supported in honest and age-appropriate ways.
“My daughter loves coming to work with me because she feels she has many grannies and grandpas around her. And they love interacting with her,” she says. “For many living with dementia, they are actually reconnecting with a more childlike state, and this means there is often a lovely understanding between them and their grandkids.”
Tips for parents:
There is no point denying that anything is wrong once Granny or Grandpa show symptoms associated with dementia. Milder symptoms can include forgetfulness and confusion, such as asking questions repeatedly or being unsure of names. As the dementia progresses, however, many patients experience considerable loss in function, personality changes, and delusions.
“Children should ask questions, and be given honest answers,” she says. Open dialogue is essential. Children are perceptive and will be aware of the changes or even your feelings about those changes. Pretending they aren’t happening is ineffective and damaging. A child also takes their lead from their parental figure, so if you’re willing to talk about dementia, you create a safe space for your children to do the same.
Keep it simple
A commitment to honesty doesn’t mean overwhelming a child with medical explanations. The information must be age-appropriate and informed by your child’s ability to understand. This ability will naturally increase as children age, Claudia explains.
Putting things in terms of an accessible metaphor is a great way to tackle the conversation. This might be something like talking to your kids about how older computers and mobile phones are sometimes slower or unable to do the tasks that newer ones can. “Well, you can explain to children, the same can be applied to people.”
Encourage connection and responsibility
Don’t limit or curtail the relationship between your child and their grandparent because of the onset of dementia. Kids can be encouraged, but not forced, to take part in a family visit with a grandparent in a dementia home. Another great tool is the video calling on WhatsApp – especially if you want to keep the connection but limit the direct engagement. For example, Claudia says, “As a parent it is important to keep an eye on the family’s health. If someone is sick, rather hold off the visit till everyone is happy and healthy again or keep up the visit virtually.”
Set the ground rules
Be clear and upfront about the rules your children must follow, and which ones they can expect their grandparents to flout. For example, Claudia says, one of her patients at Livewell has become a prolific swearer since the onset of dementia. Claudia has had to explain to her daughter that even though Granny swears, the same is not allowed from kids.
Tips for kids:
Information courtesy of: https://livewell.care/
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Understanding what you want
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The personal information we collect
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