How to help children to cope when a relative has dementia
I feel like I ought to feel sad about my Gran, because I do love her. But sometimes I just get really fed up because she’s living with us. She’s changed my whole life. I have to share a room with my brother and put up with Gran’s questions all the time. Sometimes I feel guilty because it’s not her fault. But it helps when I can get my Mum on her own and talk about it.
My Grandad lives with us and sometimes he does things which are really embarrassing. One time I had a gang of friends round and he came in and started taking his clothes off! I was too embarrassed to explain and for weeks everyone was slagging me at school. In the end I told them he has Alzheimer’s disease and what that means and they were mostly OK after that.
I feel like I’ve changed a lot. I don’t feel like a 14 year old any more in my mind. My mother was still treating me like a child. All her time and energy revolved around Dad. Eventually it came to a head when I told her I felt I was losing her as well as my Dad. We talked to 2 a.m. Now we talk a lot and she treats me more like an adult.
I help Dad look after Mum every night after my homework. My sister never helps. She’s older than me and she just goes out all the time. I thought she must not care. But one night we talked about it and she’s really upset – worse than me I think. She was crying and saying that she misses how Mum used to be and it hurts to be near her. I still wish she’d help more but I understand better now.
Children can have a calming effect on people with dementia. They can also be extremely caring and patient, once they understand what’s happening. Many parents don’t realise this and try to protect them, sometimes pretending that there is nothing wrong. But most children soon realise that something is wrong. They may react in a number of ways. Some might think that they are somehow to blame, others may be afraid of the erratic or unusual behaviour of the person with dementia.
How to help children cope when a relative is suffering from dementia
Explain what dementia is and provide reassurance and support
Give children appropriate literature to read and refer to. Talk to them about dementia and encourage them to ask questions. Offer simple and honest explanations whenever possible and discuss changes in behaviour as they occur. As you become immersed in caring for the person with dementia, you might sometimes overlook their needs or underestimate their problems. So try to give them attention in their own right. It is a good idea to remind children that the person’s behaviour is a reflection of the disease and is not aimed at them. Some young children think that they have said or done something that has caused the disease and may need reassuring that they are not to blame. Sometimes another member of the family is better at explaining and the child may find it easier to talk to them. During the course of the disease, relationships may change. Members of the family may find themselves moving away from some people and becoming closer to others.
Encourage children to talk to their friends and teachers
It is a good idea to encourage them to explain what dementia is and how they feel to their friends and teachers. Children are often embarrassed about odd behaviour in front of their friends. You might be able to help them to explain the situation whilst making their friends feel welcome and comfortable in your home. Once teachers understand the situation they might be able to help your child by giving extra time for homework or helping the child to deal with problems at school. They might also suggest arranging for counselling.
Last Updated: Wednesday 21 October 2009