When a family member has dementia knowing how to explain the condition and finding ways to involve a child can be difficult.
Young children can be very perceptive to small changes in a person’s personality and behaviour. Sometimes chilldren may fear these changes are a consequence of their actions. Other times they may adapt their behaviour naturally and focus on the moment.
When a family member has dementia talking openly and honestly about why a person is not behaving in their “normal” manner can help.
Depending on a child’s age and level of understanding it’s important to reassure children that a loved one’s behaviour is due to changes in the brain. Reassure the child that these changes are part of an illness and not directed at them.
Whilst dementia may affect how we relate to others try not to diminish a person’s role as a grandparent. If you can, try and explain the condition simply. Always encourage a child to ask lots of questions.
Find activities children can enjoy
People living with dementia commonly respond well to children. Children’s behaviour can often be uplifting and comforting.
Depending on the child’s age and ability to cope, there are many things you can do to encourage meaningful and stimulating interactions with a loved one with dementia.
Keep in mind that people living with dementia may have a limited attention span and a noisy environment with too many children may increase feelings of anxiety.
Some children may feel uncomfortable or fearful of a loved one’s behaviour. Especially if that behaviour is unpredictable or aggressive. Do not leave a child to do tasks on their own that are beyond their capabilities or understanding.
Activities a child can enjoy with a loved one living with dementia:
- Encourage a child to read a loved one a book.
- Go through family photo albums and discuss the pictures.
- Make a video together.
- Children love feeling useful. Sort out items in the kitchen (arranging plastic containers) or the study (filing important papers).
- Play a musical instrument or a favourite tune.
- Sing familiar songs.
- Children love cutting and pasting. Make a scrape book together of the family.
- Make some personalised cards for family birthdays.
- Play a card game or puzzle.
- Tidy the garden by sweeping leaves, tending to a vegie patch.
- Painting and drawing can be a relaxing and rewarding activity for people with dementia and children.
- Caring for a loved one with dementia can be demanding and stressful on all the family. Without thinking we may direct our frustrations at the people we love the most.
Children can often feel neglected if we don’t spend as much time with them as we used to. They may feel fearful that they may catch the illness, embarrassed by a loved one’s behaviour or wonder why a person is not getting any better.
People with dementia usually respond well to a child’s company. Try not to exclude a child from caregiving but also remember to set aside some quality time alone with a child.