Dementia puts a physical and emotional strain on all of the family, and for children who live with or have close contact with someone with dementia, it can be a very unsettling time. Seeing someone they love change is upsetting. Children will express their emotions in different ways and the uncertainty and disruption on their daily life can impact them too. Due to the complexity of the condition, children may also not really understand what dementia is and its effects.
If there are children in your family who are living with dementia, we hope that these tips on how to help you and them cope with the condition will enable you all to live as positively as possible.
Explain what dementia is as this will make the child less afraid – It’s difficult to explain to younger children about the symptoms of dementia. This short animation (watch with or without subtitles) was developed as a resource for children between the ages of 8 to 12 years old. It aims to help them gain a greater understanding about changes that are occurring in the brain and how it affects the person, and also practical tips on how they can help their relative and continue to enjoy quality time with them.
Encourage the child to express their feelings – Children need to have their feelings validated and not feel judged, so it’s important that they know it’s ok to express their feelings, in whatever way they transpire. Otherwise they will begin to keep it secret as to how they are feeling and this can cause problems.
Children use different methods of communication – Children will express their thoughts and emotions through different methods of communication. Talking and art therapy sessions could be a good approach to help them communicate. By talking to an independent person, like a therapist, the child can take the time to explore and express their thoughts without thinking they are upsetting a family member, and without feeling like they are being pushed to give an answer.
Get peers to join in to encourage inclusion – if a child feels they are the only person going through something, like dementia, they will feel isolated and alone. Speak to their teacher or the leader of the activity club they attend to see if they can do a fun fundraiser for dementia (like Time for a Cuppa). This will erase the feeling of isolation and other children may then say ‘My grandparent, aunt, uncle, or family friend’ has dementia too; and these children will then bond when talking about a shared experience of dementia.
Children need an outlet– children should take part in a group activity or club that doesn’t cross over with their home life, so they can have fun with other children without feeling guilty. It’s important the child doesn’t feel like their childhood is being taken away from them. If the child can participate in a reward oriented activity – with badges, medals, and certificates – they can then share their pride in their achievements with their family, especially if the family is able to attend their award ceremonies.
Create memories – if it’s still possible arrange activities with the child and the person with dementia so the child can create memories that they can cherish of their time spent with their loved one. Take pictures of them together and having fun, so the child has something to look at to remember positive times.
Children need to know they are being heard and listened to – however far progressed and time-consuming the dementia condition is, it’s important to take the time out with the child so they know they have your time and love. If possible, arrange for a carer to come and look after the person with dementia, so you can take the child out for you and them time.
Inform people about what the child is going through – speak to the child’s school and the leaders of activity groups that they participate in, so allowances can be made and support provided. If people are aware of the child’s situation they can better understand why they are behaving out of character and respond in the best way.
Information for this post was kindly provided by Admiral Nurse Jody Howie.