Dementia care – Include the children in the care plan

When we think of Dementia care we think of the person who has Dementia

Recently the World Health Organization and Alzheimer Disease International have released figures that confirm Alzheimer’s is a global epidemic, affecting all parts of our global community, not just the individual with the disease.

Alzheimer’s disease impacts the entire family, including children and grandchildren. Quite often children are considered as NOT significantly impacted, in that they may not understand the changes occurring to the person with dementia. Research has shown that children are impacted at the sight of their beloved grandparent or favourite uncle undergoing a strange transformation at the hands of dementia.

Often children are sheltered and protected from the reality of seeing the person they once knew affected by the disease which can raise questions for the child trying to understand these changes.

The degree to which children are impacted by the disease depends on who is affected — a parent or grandparent, relative or friend. Other factors include how close the child is to the person, how often the child spends time with the family member and whether they live in the same house. The age of the child and their ability to understand what is happening is also an important factor.

How a child can be affected by Dementia

There are often significant emotional reactions for a child who has a loved one living with dementia. Being confronted with the mental deterioration of a significant person in their lives can be quite difficult to deal with. Often they may feel a myriad of emotions including:

  • Sadness – sad about changes in a loved one’s personality
  • Confusion – confused about why the person behaves differently
  • Fear – afraid when the kind, gentle person they once knew displays uncharacteristic aggressive behaviour
  • Frustration – frustrated by the need to repeat activities or questions
  • Embarrassment – embarrassed to have friends or other visitors to the house

Some useful strategies

Whilst there is no standard approach that should be taken with children to help them best cope with the disease, as children are all individuals and cope with situations differently, there are a few steps that might be useful to employ as a strategy for helping children cope.

These strategies include:

  • Engaging the child in what their loved one is experiencing so they have an understanding of what is happening
  • Being aware of how the child is reacting to the changing behaviour of the person with dementia
  • Providing opportunities to express how the child is feeling
  • Encouraging the child to ask questions about what is happening and answer truthfully

It is important that the child is reassured that the disease does not come with blame. It is not a person’s fault that they are acting differently, and they certainly do not deserve the disease. Discuss with the child how providing support for a person with dementia can be upsetting and time consuming for all family members, including adults but is important to do. Dementia care, personal care and respite care services should be explained to the child as being a sign of support for the loved one to enable independence and to continue to enjoy regular activities as much as possible.

Show you still care

There are many ways to show that as a family you care. This can be done by keeping family gatherings as normal as possible. Care is shown also by engaging external support, such as dementia care and associated respite care and personal care that can take pressure from the shoulders of family members.

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