“But Mommy, she doesn’t read to me anymore before I go to bed.”
“But Mommy, she doesn’t take me to get sno cones anymore.”
“But Mommy, she calls me Johnny.”
“But Mommy, she doesn’t tell me that I’m her favorite big boy.”
“But Mommy, I don’t like the way she stares at me.”
“But Mommy, she scares me.”
“Mommy, is Iddy still there?”
“BUT I CAN’T FIND HER….WHY?”
A child, as adults, see the many differences that take place in their loved ones when dementia strikes. They have the same questions that we as adults have.
They desperately want to FIND that SWEET SPOT again in their grandmother or grandfather. They, as do adults, want to bring their reality back… but they, like we as adults, don’t know how to engage in a way where that time together can be a LIFE ENRICHING TIME!
WHY… because every day is different in the lives of someone with dementia. And children have an extremely hard time with DIFFERENT… as does the person they love so much.
When someone we love becomes afflicted with an illness and do not feel good, for a while, we can easily explain that to a child… it seems a little more concrete to them. And, they can see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears, the illness progress… and, hopefully… get better. Like a cold, or surgery and the healing process…even the flu when you must be isolated from them for a period of time.
But with a dementia… that grandparent may look good, feel fine and even be able to sit and read us a book. But when she starts calling you by your mother’s name… or can’t seem to find the bathroom that has been in their home or your home for many years, constantly asking your child the same question over and over again, perhaps even being a little agitated with them over the smallest things… that is very confusing and somewhat frightening for the child.
How do we prepare them for something such as this dreaded disease?
First, honesty is always the best practice. Yes… in a gentle way, be honest. Telling them that this is an illness that only effects the brain… is good… although you need to make sure that you explain to them, at the right time, that due to the brain not working properly, it can also cause changes in other areas of their lives. Letting them know this is not like the flu, you can’t catch it… nor does it mean anyone else they love will get it. NOW, we know statistics prove that age… over 65… and genetics… play a major part in whether or not you MAY get it… but at a young age… this is not something they need to worry about.
Let them know this does not mean their relationship with their grandparent is over… it just may mean it is a little different. One thing for SURE is that grandmother will more than likely ALWAYS love ice cream with you. Playing simple games or coloring with their grandchildren is always fun… and singing songs that are well remembered… will always be a great way of sharing time together.
As time moves on and the many changes take place due to the disease process, make sure you talk often about these changes. Don’t take them for a visit and let the changes become a big surprise as this causes more fear and anxiousness than if you made sure they were made aware before the visit.
Remember… intergenerational activities with those with any form of dementia are so rich and meaningful in the lives of those who struggle with this horrible disease.
One of my biggest regrets I have, as a grandmother was with my oldest granddaughter, who my mother loved so much… and not taking her more often to see granny. But there does come a time when that decision must be made…. so fear is not their last memory of that sweet precious grandparent.”