Children and Dementia
Posted by: Gemma Keogh | 15.10.15

 

It is incredibly hard to explain to a child what is happening to their grandparent when he/she is living with dementia.

The child often struggles to understand why Grannie doesn’t remember them or why Grandad seems so distressed and angry.

Sometimes children take it personally, thinking that their grandparents don’t love them any more or they too become distressed. Parents may begin to limit visits or worse, tell them that their beloved Grandparent has passed away to avoid on-going upset for the child.

It is a sad, stressful and frightening time for all the family.

But does it have to be like that?

As we, as a society, become braver in our conversations around dementia, make our communities more inclusive for those living with the illness, we need to remember what dementia looks and feels like through the eyes of a child and think of innovative ways we can support families through this journey.

Care providers can play a huge role in supporting children to maintain their relationship with their grandparents. I haven’t been inside a care home yet that doesn’t welcome children but sometimes it takes a little extra care and understanding to help children overcome their fears and feel comfortable within a home.

Family Days, where specific time and space is set aside for children to play or take part in activities together, with their parents and grandparents in the room, can help them feel reassured and more accepting of what is happening.

Intergenerational activities, where the young join in with the older, such as story time or sing-a-long sessions, also helps the child feel a part of the home and they can enjoy their time visiting their grandparents, even if the relationship has taken on a new form.

An innovative client was once so successful in creating an environment where children felt comfortable, that an eight-year-old chose to hold her birthday party there and all the residents were able to enjoy the disco and entertainment.

Gwyenth and Lauren

There are also some excellent resources available for families such as growing range of children’s story books that cover dementia and the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren. Some include accessible information pages on the illness, written in language that children will understand, encouraging them to talk about how they feel and how they can continue to spend time with their grandparents.

As a sector it is up to us to make the resources available to the families of our residents, to go the extra mile and make children feel special when they visit a home. As well as an advocate for older people we need to be a champion for the needs of children in the dementia debate too, by offering support, information and by raising awareness.

We’ve already made huge progress over the last few years and we need to build on this and break down the barriers that dementia places between grandparents and their grandchildren.