Children can be very curious about physical changes and demeanor alterations, especially when they notice this about a family member. Children also ask remarkably frank questions about these changes.

“Why can’t Grandpa remember my name?” “Why does that lady have to take care of Grandpa?” “What’s wrong with Grandpa?” “When will Grandpa get better and play with me?” “Why does Grandpa wear diapers?” Deteriorating health is one of those uncomfortable subjects adults hate to contemplate, let alone explain to a child. And yet, it is our job as parents and grandparents to teach our little ones empathy and help them develop a capacity for caregiving.

If your physician has given a name to your loved one’s illness, I think that it is important to teach that word to your child. When something has a name, it isn’t so scary to a child. If the disease has a known origin, then explain the simplified circumstances under which a person might get this illness. Otherwise, a child might worry that he or she might also get that illness. In the case of Alzheimer’s, a simple explanation is that half the population over age 85 has this disease, and half does not. President Ronald Reagan was a smart, good, and handsome man, (just like your loved one?) and he got Alzheimer’s. Talking about a famous person who suffered with the same illness is one way to help a child identify with the problem.

Do not lie to your little one about the illness or the problems of living with the illness. Explain that Grandpa, for instance, has trouble remembering names because his brain has a disease. “The disease causes problems with Grandpa’s memory,” you could say. On the issue of recovery, if it is not possible, then focus on how Grandpa is doing the best that he can. You could explain, “Some days are good for him; others are not.” Always reinforce that the child’s love and attention are very important for people like Grandpa. “The love of a child is a special gift. Grandpa deserves as much love as we can give him, for as long as we have Grandpa with us.” you might say.

Source:  Kim Champion