December 10, 2004
by Arol Anne Riddell
Alzheimer's can be devastating for everyone in a family. But for children, watching a grandparent change can be confusing or frightening. There are things adults can do to ease that process for kids.
For Grisette Ducos, the pain of watching her father struggle with Alzheimer’s was heartbreaking. She helped to care for him at home, at the same time caring for her two young children.
"I mean I literally went from changing my father's undergarments or feeding him to feeding my baby. And that's heart wrenching." Grisette’ s father died last year. Her oldest child Brianna has fond memories of her beloved papa, but the changes particularly towards the end were difficult.
"He didn't really remember me because of the sickness." the effects of Alzheimer’s can touch an entire family, and experts say for children the disease can be confusing, even scary.
"I think it can be very confusing for a child who normally has a sense of what an adult should be and what that adult role is. When that changes it is very upsetting," said Jed Levine of the Alzheimer's Association.
Levine offers these suggestions for parents: encourage talking; it will help kids deal with their feelings. Educate them about the disease in age appropriate ways for example with children's books. There are many available. Find activities, things kids and grandparents can do together even if that’s just watching a video or looking at old pictures. And don't let children supervise a person with dementia; it can be risky and overwhelming.
"Psychologically its very demanding on a child and very stressful on a child," said Levine.
Grisette says she worried about what her older daughter would remember... "I didn't want her to remember him as just papa, that person curled up in bed who didn't interact. I wanted her to remember those great times."
To keep those great times alive, Grisette put together this book, "When Papa Remembered Me", full of illustrations done by her husband showing the children's grandfather in better days. A way for the entire family to hold onto the man they loved.
"I remember when he was on his chair he used to put me on his lap and swing me around like an airplane and he used to buy me ice cream and sneak another cone."
Some kids it's helpful to take positive action, for example with public awareness activities or, if they are old enough, with writing about how Alzheimer’s has affected their family.
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