AlzU Blog

How to Talk to Children and Teens about Alzheimer’s Disease

A diagnosis such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD) impacts the entire family, including children and teens. AD is a difficult disease, not only for the individual diagnosed, but for the family members as well.  There are literally millions of adults fighting AD today and along with them, millions of children, grandchildren and teens who must also learn about how to cope with the devastation news of having AD in the family.

It’s important to establish open communication with kids early on and help them understand what is happening to their loved one with AD.  Of course the discussion will vary quite a bit depending on the age of the child.

Children and teens have a wide range of emotional reactions to learning about a family member with AD, depending primarily on how close they are to the individual who was diagnosed. Is it a parent or grandparent?  Does the family member with AD live in the same house as the kids or somewhere else?  These are all factors that impact the reaction children exhibit when told about having a family member with AD.

Here are some common feelings you can expect to observe when kids are told about a family member’s AD diagnosis:

  • Sadness regarding the change in their loved one’s personality and behavior changes
  • Confusion
  • Fear about what to expect
  • Concern that the disease could be contagious
  • Frustration about having to repeat things over and over when there are memory problems
  • Guilt about feeling anger or frustration
  • Jealousy regarding the amount of time and attention spent on the family member with AD
  • Embarrassment around their peers and/or they may stop inviting friends over

Of course, children don’t always exhibit emotions in the same way adults do.  For example, many children experience negative feelings physically.  Complaints of stomach or headaches are common. Other kids may start having problems in school and teens may stop inviting friends over or begin to spend more time away from home as a way to cope with their emotions.

How Family Members can Help Kids Cope

Educate Kids about the disease.  There are many online resources, including videos, that can help teach kids of all ages about the disease. Offer kids and teens support when needed as well as frequent opportunities to express feelings and ask questions openly.  Give reinforcement that feelings are normal and answer questions with as much honesty as possible.  When children are prepared for the changes that come with symptoms of AD, their reaction has proven to be far less dramatic.

Activities for Kids and Family Members to do with their Loved Ones with AD:

  • Go for walks together
  • Look at family photos
  • Listen to music and sing or dance together
  • Watch favorite movies together
  • Work on a family tree together
  • Help children draw photos or do artwork for grandparents to keep in a memory book along with family photos

Educating children and teens about AD is not always easy, but preparing them for what to expect in advance has been shown to decrease the anxiety and negative emotions involved.  Reach out to other caregivers to get their ideas on what has and has not worked well in their experience of educating children in the family, and don’t forget to ask for support and reach out to others for help when needed.  Learn more about AD in our 25 lessons for caregivers by CLICKING HERE.

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