For young children and even teens, it can be difficult to grasp Alzheimer’s disease and all the events that will happen to the person with this illness who has played a central role in their lives. Because Alzheimer’s can have a profound impact on family life, it is important to discuss with the children as early as possible. To choose the right words to explain a loved one’s diagnosis to a child, it is necessary to first consider his or her age and modify the conversation to make it age appropriate. Here are some tips to help:
• Younger Children: When you are talking to a younger child, you might not necessarily want to use the term Alzheimer’s disease. “I recommend parents say something like, ‘Grandpa is having problems with his memory or he is unable to think as well as he used to think, so sometimes we’ll have to help him with his thinking or his remembering,'” says Barry J. Jacobs, PsyD, a psychologist, faculty member of the Crozer-Keystone Family Medicine Residency Program. You should mention that his or her loved one will get sicker over time. Once your child has a good grasp of what has already been explained, you could prepare him or her for some of the changes that will occur in his or her loved one. This can include teaching him or her about the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and how to handle them appropriately.
• Teens: Teenagers will be capable of understanding more than young children, so you should share the details of both the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and the treatment options available. “For teenagers, we developed a more sophisticated program that actually gets into the brain pathology,” says Dr. Powers, spokesman for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. “Often, teenagers will end up playing a role in caring for grandpa or grandma, so it is important for them to know as much as possible up front.”
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