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A Grandparent Has Alzheimer’s: Tips to Talk About It

A Grandparent Has Alzheimer’s: Tips to Talk About It

<!–[CDATA[If you’re the caregiver of an aging parent with Alzheimer’s, you face communications challenges every day.


And if you’re a member of the sandwich generation, also caring for young children, one of these struggles may be talking to your kids about their grandparent’s Alzheimer’s disease.

Here’s some good news: You don’t have to keep quiet any longer. Honesty is the best policy. Just be sure to share age-appropriate information in bite-sized chunks.

Talking to Toddlers and Pre-schoolers about Alzheimer’s

Toddlers and preschoolers may not notice any difference in a grandparent with Alzheimer’s. If they ask why their grandma or grandpa forgets their name, it may be enough to say, “Grandma is sick and it’s making her forgetful. She won’t get better, but she will always love you.”

Talking to Older Children

School-age children have more capacity to understand that Alzheimer’s is a brain disease, changing the way their grandparent thinks and feels, and making them do unusual things.

Children may be frightened or uncomfortable witnessing their grandparent’s odd behavior. They may feel guilty as a result of these feelings. You can explain that you, too, feel scared, frustrated, and uncomfortable at times. It’s completely normal and nothing to feel guilty about.

Provide specific examples of how Alzheimer’s affects their grandparent, as well as the things they can still do. “Grandma may not remember what grade you’re in, but she still loves baking cookies with you, if you show her which ingredients come first.”

Older children may wonder if they can “catch” the disease. Explain to them that “No, it’s not contagious.”

Talking to Teens and Tweens

Teens and tweens may have many questions about AD or may not want to talk about it at all. If they want more details, you can discuss how the disease may progress and what they can expect.

Teens and tweens may also be concerned about their responsibilities and how their grandparent’s disease is going to affect the family structure.

If a teen wants to help out, let them spend time with their grandparent. But ensure their caregiving doesn’t get in the way of their own development, schoolwork, or duties as a teen.

Watch for Odd Behavior in Your Child

Younger and older children, alike, may experience a variety of feelings:

  • Grief over the loss of the grandparent they once knew
  • Confusion and fear about a grandparent’s changing behavior
  • Resentment if the aging grandparent is taking up a lot of your time

Keep an eye on your child to see how he or she is coping. Their distress could manifest in stomachaches, poor grades, or attention-getting behavior and “acting out” in negative ways.

Have candid conversations with your child and don’t forget to inject humor, where appropriate. Laughing together about old memories can help the whole family feel better in a stressful time.

Use the Resources Available

With 5.4 million Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it’s no surprise plenty of resources exist to help children cope with the disease in loved ones.

Maria Shriver’s video, Do You Know Who I Am, explores the lives of five children whose grandparents have Alzheimer’s.

The Alzheimer’s Society also offers a number of resources to explain Alzheimer’s to young children, tweens, and teens.

Don’t Hesitate

Even very young children deserve an explanation of their beloved grandparent’s strange behavior. Your children may be relieved to find out that their grandparent isn’t mad at them or ignoring them, and is acting so strangely because of an illness.

Struggling to find the right words?

The memory care experts at Five Star Senior Living may be able to offer advice and guidance. 

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