Saturday, November 27, 2010

Alzheimer's Disease, How to Talk to Your Kids

My best advice is to help your children understand that they have the power to make Great Grandpa’s life better....
Alzheimer's Reading Room

I was surprised yesterday when I received 3 emails asking me for advice on how to talk to kids about Alzheimer's disease.

Here is an example question: How can I talk to my 6 and 4 year old about their Great Grandpas Alzheimer's disease?

I decided to turn to 14 year old Max Wallack for an answer to this question.

You might be surprised and impressed by his insight and advice. Remarkable to me.


Bob DeMarco forwarded your email to me. I was a caregiver for my Great Grandmother. She lived with my family until her death, in 2007, when I was 10, so I have lived through the experience you describe.

I think the easiest explanation for a child is that an Alzheimer’s patient has trouble finding their memories in their head. Their important memories are still there, and sometimes they can find them easily. Other times, it’s very hard for them to find their memories.

You could explain that their love for people they have loved remains, even if they have trouble expressing it. Also, art is one of the methods of reaching an Alzheimer’s patient. If the children draw their feelings and present it to the Great Grandpa, he may find it easier to understand than words.

If Great Grandpa displays emotions or actions that the children find obviously wrong, you should explain that he has an actual illness, and sometimes he feels better, and, at other times, his illness overwhelms him.

Explain that Great Grandpa is the same person he always was. He just has a great deal of trouble expressing himself.

Tell the children that they can help Great Grandpa, and they can help take care of him. Make them feel like they are being really helpful. This will make them want to help even more, making them kinder to Great Grandpa. He may even respond to this very well, and he may become kinder to them in turn.

In general, Alzheimer’s patients usually love to be around children. When I was about 7 or 8, my relationship with my Great Grandmother was more like being her older brother. I “looked out” for her, and she usually responded well because she knew I cared.

In the moments that she was an adult or “more there”, she recognized and appreciated what I was doing. When she no longer recognized any other family members, she would smile when she saw me.

I think I am a much better person today because I helped care for my Great Grandmother. I grew up understanding being responsible and being empathetic. This is a real gift that your Great Grandpa can give your children.

I can’t deny that there are many difficult and hard-to-understand moments. This illness is difficult to understand for adults, much less children. However, the feeling for a child that he/she can make a difference and give happiness to someone suffering from mental confusion is very empowering.

My best advice is to help your children understand that they have the power to make Great Grandpa’s life better.


You should consider sending this to families that have children that are being touched by Alzheimer's disease.

Max Wallack is a student at Boston University Academy. His great grandmother, Gertrude, suffered from Alzheimer's disease. Max is the founder of PUZZLES TO REMEMBER. PTR is a project that provides puzzles to nursing homes and veterans institutions that care for Alzheimer's and dementia patients.

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Original content Bob DeMarco and Max Wallack, the Alzheimer's Reading Room