When an elder in the family has dementia: the impact on children

A couple of months ago, the daughter of a dementia patient told me she was worried about how her children would be affected on seeing a grandparent get angry and accusatory and throwing tantrums. And again, a few days ago, another woman described a scene where her son yelled back at a grandparent who had been yelling. “These are not the ‘values’ I want my son to imbibe,” she said.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a while, and I feel that, in all our caregiver talk and awareness drives, we don’t focus enough on the impact on young children – on what to explain to them, and how to help them cope and adjust. In this context, I chanced upon a very nice article where the author describes how she, as a child, felt about the secrecy around a grandparent’s dementia: Essay: Children need to be brought into the Alzheimer’s conversation.

So what happens in a family when a grandparent acts forgetful, asks questions repeatedly, or says something harsh to the grandchildren? Do the adults act matter-of-fact about it and say it is the nature of dementia, do they take pains to explain things to the child and suggest ways to communicate with the grandparent and cope with strange behavior, do they “protect” the child by pretending nothing is wrong with the grandparent, or do they try to reduce interactions between the child and the grandparent?

Every dementia patient behaves differently, and every family is different in terms of the challenges they face. Some patients say things that hurt – like telling a granddaughter that they had wanted a grandson instead, or berating a child for being dark-complexioned, or short, or fat, or thin, whatever. These are tricky situations to handle, and consoling the children gets tough. In some families, the children get irritated and snap at a grandparent who is forgetful or repetitive, a reaction which typically makes things worse and ends up in a free-for-all yelling match.

Read the full post here