Coping Skills: “Grandpa has Alzheimer’s”

September 04 2014

Time and visits with a grandparent is one of the best gifts a child can receive. That interaction between the young child and his older grandparent can make life-lasting memories for both. But what happens when grandma or grandpa is ill, perhaps with Alzheimer’s? Do the visits have to stop?

The best way to navigate the changing situation is to be as honest as you can, says the Alzheimer’s Society. Visits are definitely encouraged but the child should begin to learn a “new normal” about their grandparent, according to how far along the disease has progressed.

The Alzheimer’s Society offers these loving tips:

  • You might want to start talking to the child about her grandparent’s new situation. This might turn into a series of talks and as every parent knows, the child will have lots of questions. Give practical examples to describe what the child may experience during a visit, such as Grandpa forgetting names or forgetting where he is for a moment.
  • Explain that Grandpa’s new way of behaving is the disease at work and has nothing to do with the child, even if it seems that way, say if Grandpa is extra grouchy during a visit. His disease often gives him little control over his behavior.
  • Alongside that, talk about the things grandpa can still do (smile), as well as those that he can’t (drive).
  • Once you’ve had several talks, and questions have been asked, ask your child how he feels. He may or may not have had enough time to process what could be an upsetting situation, so his feelings may change or deepen. Encourage his questions.
  • Never be afraid to use humor, especially if humor arises naturally from the situation, as in, Grandpa is wearing a napkin on his head one day when you and your child go for a visit. Your kind reaction to such an event will teach your child in the best of ways. “Grandpa, did you know you have a napkin on your head?” Then quietly taking it off as you kiss him hello.
  • What can you do during a visit? Know that there will be some quiet moments, but a great source of conversation is family pictures. Maybe your child can make her own photo album for Grandpa (construction paper and taped photos will do fine). It might be a nice way to bridge what seems like a large gap for a child who is used to her Grandpa behaving in a different way.
  • Turning on background music during a visit might help to trigger Grandpa’s memory and an impromptu sing-a-long may be the happy result.
  • Set a time limit for the visit. Everyone gets tired, so a shorter visit may work best.
  • Does the child offer to help? Maybe she wants to place a food tray on the table outside the door, or she wants to help fold a blanket for Grandpa’s chair. Wonderful! This teaches them that they’re a valued member of a larger family and reminds them that you’re all in this together.

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