Written by Active Minds on Friday the 21st of July 2017.
Finding out a loved one has been diagnosed with dementia is incredibly hard for everyone in the family, but it can often be particularly difficult for the young members who may not have a full understanding of what the illness is and how it will affect their relative. Though it is a difficult subject to tackle, it is important for both you and your child that you spend time explaining what dementia is and how it will impact on the behaviour and personality of their loved one.
There are a variety of wonderful resources available that help children of different ages gain an understanding of the illness. For example, Alzheimer’s Research UK has a brilliant section on their website with resources and games designed to help children get to grips with dementia, including a brain exploration game and a story called When Grandma Came To Stay, which tells the tale of a young girl who has to deal with some unusual situations when her grandma with dementia comes to stay. The learning sections are divided by age groups – young kids, juniors and teens – and really do give a factful, non-patronising, gentle introduction to dementia and how it will impact on them and their loved one’s lives.
There are also a huge variety of books available, which you can use to help introduce the subject to your child. Sometimes, when explaining a personally emotive subject, you can become tongue tied and flustered, so using external resources, such as books is a great idea. Unbecoming by Jenny Downham is a gripping teen novel, that explores the relationship between three generations of women (teen, mother and grandmother), told through the eyes of a 17 year old teen, as her grandmother with dementia moves in. For younger children, Lovely Old Lion by Julia Jarman is a wonderful book that follows the story of the King Lion as he starts to become forgetful and how his friends and family rally around, supporting and caring for him.
The key to talking about dementia with your children is to be patient, talk it through and encourage them to ask as many questions as possible. Also, whilst it is tempting to sugar coat the issue, so as not to upset them too much, it really is best to be as open and honest as possible when it comes to talking about dementia. The more honest you are, the more prepared your children will be. This will help to reduce their anxiety and give them time to come to terms with the news. But also explain that it’s okay to laugh about it sometimes too and that they can still have fun with their relatives despite the condition.
And finally, be aware of signs that your child may be struggling to come to terms with the news. If you notice that your child starts to perform poorly at school or becomes withdrawn then you may need to have further discussions with them about what is happening. It is also important to speak to their teachers and school counsellors so they are aware of the situation and are on hand to provide support and talk to your child if needs be.