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Helping Your Teen Understand Grandparent's Alzheimer's Diagnosis

Ask the Experts by Barbara Roden

Q: I'm struggling trying to help my 14 year old son to understand why grandpa is being more forgetful over the past 6 months. The two of them have always had a close relationship. My father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's earlier this year. Might you be able to offer some suggestions as to how I might be able to help my son understand what is happening now and what to expect in the future?

A: It is important when having a discussion about his grandfather and explaining the situation is to be as clear, honest and calm as possible. One of the hardest parts about the disease especially in the early stages is that you cannot visually see that something is wrong. 

You can start your discussion with the common functionalities of the brain (language, memory, balance, vision, senses etc.) and how all these functions help us do things throughout the day. Then you can explain that dementia is a brain disease that causes some of these functions to fail. Explain that is progressive, which means you will see slow changes in his grandfather and it unfortunately it won’t get better.

One of the first signs that people notice is loss of memory. His grandfather may have a hard time remember new memories, such as a doctor’s appointment, or a scheduled visit from the family. But he will be able to recall older memories such as special times he shared with his grandson. Possibly have your son recall a special time with his grandfather then explain that this would be a great topic to bring up with Grandpa.

As the disease progresses there will be things that he will have a hard time doing and that is not only frustrating for your son to see but it is frustrating for his grandfather. But what is most important is at every visit, to focus on what he can do not what he can’t do. (Daily routines, hobbies, favorite shows or music, games, looking at photos etc.) Think of things they can do together so they can stay connected.

Even as the disease progresses, and Grandpa may not recognize families members, emotional memories stay which means stay friendly, smile, laugh. This will allow your son to be that special person to him at any stage of the disease and hopefully provide some long lasting positive memories. 

Barbara Roden is the owner of Senior Helpers located at 18080 Mack Avenue in Grosse Pointe. For further information call 313.885.0600 or visit Senior Helpers is a member of The Family Center’s Association of Professionals.

Written August 2017

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