Q: My mother has moderately severe Alzheimer’s and is living full time with my sister in another state. I am taking my 7-year-old daughter to visit her for a couple of weeks next month and I am at a loss as to how to explain what Grandma is going through. I’ve told her that Grandma is very forgetful and has to have a lot of help with daily activities, but I am worried that my daughter will be upset if my mother gets confused about where she is or has a crying spell. How can I help my daughter prepare for this?
A: It is wonderful that you are thinking ahead and preparing your daughter for a new experience. The best way to explain Alzheimer’s is just to be very honest. Children, as well as adults, are afraid of what they do not understand. Alzheimer’s is a disease process you might start by explaining how that process has affected her. Find out from your sister (or whomever is the main caregiver for your mother) what triggers certain behaviors. Does Grandma have trouble when she is tired or perhaps when she is overstimulated by too much company? And most important, talk about what to do when behaviors might occur. What calms Grandma down? A walk, a nap or a snack?
Talk about what Grandma enjoyed doing in her life. For example, did Grandma love to sing? Perhaps your daughter could sing Grandma a song she has learned in school. Or was Grandma a great cook? Maybe you could make one of Grandma’s best recipes as a family. Whatever it may be, make sure to honor the memories for the future.
Before your trip, I would suggest that you check out one of the following books: What’s Happening To Grandpa? by Maria Shriver, Grandma’s Cobwebs by Ann Frantti, or The Stranger I Call Grandma by Swanee Ballman. All of these books, along with many others, are available at your local library and can be checked out through your local Alzheimer’s Association Chapter. These books are wonderful resources and would I suggest reading them together to see how your daughter reacts or if she has any questions.
If you have other questions, please contact your local Alzheimer’s Association chapter for further assistants. You can find your local chapter by visiting www.alz.org. Also check out the link just for kids and teens.
I hope this information is helpful and I wish you a wonderful visit with your family.