One of the most important relationships is the relationship between grandchildren and their grandparents. Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia may take away the fullness of that relationship over the years.
However, there are still ways to nurture the connection between grandparent and grandchild, keeping it meaningful and strong even in the case of a grandparent’s cognitive decline.
Read our tips on how to communicate and nurture a connection throughout a grandparent’s dementia.
Communicate With Your Child About Their Grandparent’s Dementia
Start by talking to your child about what is happening with Grandma or Grandpa and don’t try to pretend that nothing is wrong. Without an explanation, children may sense you’re trying to hide something — or worse, they may become confused or frightened by their grandparent’s behavior.
How to Communicate With Younger Children
With younger children, keep the explanation simple. Tell them that Grandma or Grandpa has an illness that causes them to have trouble remembering things.
Let them know they shouldn’t get upset if their grandparent forgets their name and that it is part of the illness. It doesn’t mean that their grandparent loves them any less.
How to Communicate With Older Children
With older children (typically 10 and above), you can be more specific about the details of the illness. You can explain that their grandparent has an illness called Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
They are likely to have questions. Make sure you do your research so you can share with them what they can expect when it comes to their grandparent’s behavioral changes or memory loss.
Nurture the Connection
As dementia progresses, it will change the relationship between your child and their grandparent. Help to keep the connection strong with regular interactions and visits.
With a gradual progression of the disease, children will be better able to process the changes in their grandparent if they visit on a frequent basis.
There are many ways that grandparent and grandchild can interact that are less dependent on memory acuity.
- Have younger children draw greeting cards or pictures for their grandparent. Decorate your parent’s room with this artwork so there’s a sense of connection even when the grandchild is not there.
- If your child is musically inclined, have them play a few songs to entertain their grandparent.
- In the case of teenagers, involve them in their grandparent’s care. If the grandparent is living at home, the teen can help keep track of personal items or even prepare lunch. If the grandparent is at a memory care community, the teen can read a book to Grandma or show Grandpa how to scroll through a social media feed.
- Plan some family outings in which your parent comes along — i.e., dinner at a neighborhood restaurant or a mini-vacation to a beach or lake. Your parent also may enjoy attending your child’s various activities such as a dance recital or school orchestra performance.
- Play board games or card games, especially if and when the conversation becomes more difficult.
- Remind your child of the importance of physical contact — i.e., a hug hello or a kiss goodbye. Sometimes just sitting together on a sofa or cuddling together as they watch a movie, conveys all the feelings your parent’s mind can no longer express.
Support Your Child Through Their Grandparent’s Dementia
It’s hard enough for adults to see their parent or senior loved one experience the cognitive decline associated with dementia. For children, who are grappling with hard-to-process feelings, it can be even more difficult.
Lean on each other as a family to get through this difficult time. Rely on resources from your community, including counseling, to help your child and yourself.
As your parent declines, your children may become increasingly reluctant to visit. Let them know you realize how hard this is because it’s hard for you as well. Perhaps work out a compromise where they visit less frequently, but make sure they keep visiting. It will mean something to your parent – even if they can’t express it – as well as to your children later on.
About the Author
Diane Franklin is a freelance writer and editor who writes regularly about senior living and healthcare. She has also written hundreds of articles for business and trade publications, including leading magazines for the credit union and retail paint industries.
What other suggestions do you have for nurturing a relationship through a grandparent’s dementia? We’d like to hear your family’s tips in the comments below.