How to Help My Children Understand Dementia

Author: Maine Veterans' Homes
Posted: October 07, 2020
Category: Dementia and Memory Care

As your children get older, they often begin to question any health concerns, especially cognitive issues, they may notice in a grandparent.

Signs of memory loss, such as forgetting how to do a familiar daily task, confusion, and even mood changes, can be alarming to children. If your mother or father is a Veteran, they may even question whether this is related to their military history.

While you likely noticed these changes and have seen the progression in your parent's dementia over time, realize that these changes may feel dramatic and extremely worrisome for loved ones who are not there every day.

Begin by having an open conversation about your the cognitive condition of their grandparent who has been affected by dementia. The longer you wait to air out worries and emotions, the higher the risk of miscommunication or a confrontation within the family. Your children need to understand their grandma or grandpas' dementia and what lies ahead so they can accept the diagnosis, changes, and any dementia care that they may need.

Start with the basics. Do they understand what dementia is? Do they have false assumptions based on myths they’ve heard or what they’ve seen in movies?

What is Dementia?

Dementia itself is not a disease. Dementia is a brain condition that causes problems with thinking and memory. There are many forms and stages of dementia. While medications and therapies may slow the decline and help with symptoms, there is no cure.

The five most common types of dementia are:

  • Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, accounts for 60%-80% of dementia cases. It’s a disease that progresses over time, destroying memory and eventually, the functions needed for daily living.
  • Vascular dementia occurs due to a series of small strokes or a single stroke in a large blood vessel.
  • Lewy Body Dementia is when microscopic deposits of a protein form in the brain.
  • Parkinson’s disease dementia occurs in people with the nervous system disorder Parkinson's disease. On average, the symptoms of dementia develop about ten years after a person first gets Parkinson's.
  • Mixed dementia is a combination of two types of dementia. The most common combination is Alzheimer's disease and vascular dementia.

How Dementia Happens

Let your children know memory loss is not a natural part of aging. While we all will likely experience occasional memory problems as we age, dementia is caused by damage to the brain cells and will require some treatment and assisted care.

The treatment depends on the dementia and each person’s progression. Medications, non-drug therapies, and dementia care can improve symptoms and help your parent remain as independent as possible.

How Dementia Progresses

Keep the lines of communication open with your children. By understanding the various stages and how your parent is doing, there will be less chance for a misunderstanding or uncomfortable situation. It is never a good idea to avoid the topic or “pretend” it’s not happening.

There are typically three general stages for Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias: mild, moderate, and severe. Since dementia affects people differently, each person will progress through the stages differently.

Dementia Symptoms by Stage

Mild (early stage) — can function independently with only close family, friends, and neighbors noticing symptoms.

  • Problems coming up with the right word or name
  • Losing or misplacing valuable items
  • Forgetting material just read
  • Increasing trouble with planning and organizing
  • Greater difficulty performing tasks in group or work settings

Moderate (middle stage) — often the longest stage and typically when symptoms become noticeable to others.

  • Forgetting events or his personal history
  • Unable to recall his phone number or address
  • Confusion on what day it is
  • Increased wandering or becoming lost
  • Not choosing proper clothing for the season or occasion
  • Moody and withdrawn, especially in social settings or mentally challenging situations
  • Personality and behavioral changes such as being compulsive or overly suspicious

Severe (late-stage) — individuals often need extensive help with daily activities.

  • Require 24-hour supervision and assistance with daily activities and personal care
  • Lose awareness of recent experiences and current surroundings
  • Severe changes in physical abilities, such as the ability to walk and communicate

Dealing with Dementia Behavior Changes

Most people with dementia undergo behavioral changes at some point. The changes can range from being impulsive to inappropriate or childlike. Anticipating behavioral changes and understanding the causes can help your children deal with them more effectively.

Share these tips before they make their next visit.

  • When aggression appears, don’t engage in an argument or debate. Aggression in people with dementia is usually triggered by physical discomfort, unfamiliar situation, or poor communication. Identify the cause of the aggression and shift away from that.
  • If a grandparent becomes confused about where he is or who someone is, provide a simple explanation, photo, or other remember. Don’t dwell on the confusion. Go for a walk, have a snack together, or find another activity he enjoys.
  • If they begin making absurd accusations, don’t argue with him. This will likely lead to more anger and defensiveness. The deterioration of brain cells caused by dementia can lead to behaviors of poor judgment, errors in thinking, and delusions.
  • Look for specialized activities you can do with him or her. Activities that stimulate the mind and senses can reduce anxieties and confusion. 

Dementia Support

As your children begin to understand dementia, discuss how they can help support you in caregiving, what the future of dementia care looks like, and how they can get any needed support and resources.

Dementia is life-changing for those who are diagnosed and for their loved ones. By establishing a support system within your family and connecting with professional organizations and support groups, you can help your entire family understand the challenges and ensure Dad has the support and care he needs.

About Maine Veterans' Homes

When dementia progresses to the point where your loved one requires continual supervision by trained professionals, Maine Veterans’ Homes is here for you. Our dementia units are staffed with professionals who possess the knowledge and resources to provide your loved one with caring support. We take great pride in establishing friendly, trusting relationships with our residents’ families. We will help you make a difficult situation a little more manageable. Download our free Eligibility Guide >>>

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