by Kate Pomplun, LMSW, CMC
Q: As my wife’s dementia progresses, our grandchildren are having a difficult time connecting with her. I’m afraid they may not visit with us as often or invite us to their events because of her condition. How can I help to continue to foster the relationship?
With a diagnosis of dementia there are many changes in a person’s ability to communicate and participate in social situations. This can be difficult for adults to understand and cope with, let alone children. What a wonderful caregiver you are to understand that these relationships are important to your wife, even if she has trouble remembering.
Your grandchildren may have noticed Grandma doesn’t call on the phone like she used to, or is no longer able to drive them to go out for ice cream. Last time they visited, maybe she didn’t seem to recognize them or acted uninterested in their stories. It’s possible she asked them the same question over and over and couldn’t remember their response. Maybe you’ve had to decline an invitation to your granddaughter’s loud, busy basketball game because your wife wouldn’t be able to tolerate such an event. These incidents can be hurtful and confusing to children if not explained.
First of all, engage your children and grandchildren in a conversation about Mom/Grandma’s disease and what it involves. You don’t need to get too scientific, but helping them to understand that Grandma’s brain is sick will allow them to know she’s not being mean or rude. Sometimes a picture showing the changes in the brain can be helpful (you can find them on the Alzheimer’s Association website’s brain tour https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-alzheimers/brain_tour_part_2)
It’s also important for young children to know that they cannot catch dementia/Alzheimer’s (or the brain’s “sickness”) by being around someone like Grandma. In fact, being around loved ones can actually help caregivers like Grandpa as well as make Grandma’s days more enjoyable.
Having a discussion of what the grandkids can still do with Grandma will be very helpful. Each situation is different, but here are a few ideas: (find more on alz.org in the kids/teens section)
• Read a book aloud together
• Listen to music – especially Grandma’s favorite kind (hymns, jazz, rock and roll?)
• Go for a walk
• Look at photo albums
• Maybe she can attend the quiet piano recital, or an open house of the kid’s artwork at school, but not the chaotic basketball game.
• Have an ice cream social at home instead of Grandma taking them out.
There are a number of books geared for children to help understand when a loved one has dementia. Some popular titles include Why Did Grandma put her Underwear in the Refrigerator, Remember Me Remember Me Not and Harry Helps Grandpa Remember.
Chances are, by involving them you will see moments of joy from both your wife and your grandchildren.
Kate Pomplun is the owner of Aging Care Solutions in Southern Pines and a contract care manager for Aging Outreach Services. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.