THE BLOG

Teaching Children About Alzheimer's Disease

02/02/2015 10:43 am ET | Updated Apr 04, 2015

With more than 5 million people today living with Alzheimer's disease, it is becoming increasingly important for people of all ages to be aware of and informed about this devastating illness. Alzheimers is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Every 67 seconds, someone in the US is diagnosed with this condition, and the numbers only increase every year. There is no denying that Alzheimer's disease is a serious condition and one that is difficult to talk about. However difficult, it is important that adults today create a dialogue with young people about the seriousness of this condition.

While it can be difficult to talk about, there are more than 15 million Alzheimer's familial caregivers in the United States. Many of these individuals are children. Young people need to know about this condition, especially if their parents, grandparents or relatives receive a diagnosis. While it can be hard to talk to children about serious topics such as this, there are several approaches that can help make discussing Alzheimer's easier for all parties involved.

Before sitting down to talk with a child about something as serious as Alzheimer's disease, it is important to remember that children deal with feelings and reactions to situations much differently than adults. Children process things differently than adults do. Each child is different and will process this information in different ways. This is why it is so important to approach this talk slowly and with caution.

Many children grow increasingly sad, confused and fearful when they see their loved one's personality change. Their loved one with Alzheimer's may be rude to them, forget who they are or scare them. It is important to talk to the child about these things when they happen or, if possible, to prepare them for changes such as this before they occur. Children also may grow fearful that the disease is contagious, or that other people they know will start getting Alzheimer's. It is important to be honest with them about the facts. Let them know that not every person will get Alzheimer's disease, but that there are lots of people just like their loved one who suffer with this condition.

Education is very important when it comes to children understanding Alzheimer's. As an adult, make sure that you are giving young ones the opportunity to ask questions and that you are helping them understand the facts about this disease, even if they are hard to understand.

Dealing with Alzheimer's disease is difficult for any person, no matter what their age, but it is particularly important to help children cope with dealing with someone with Alzheimer's disease. Parents, adult friends and guardians should try to provide support to children, encouraging them to talk about their feelings about the situation.

For the child who has someone close to them with Alzheimer's, it is important that the child is still able to visit this person. This allows children to see their loved one being taken care of and comfortable. Children should know there are good days and bad days, and that there may be times when a loved one's behavior is upsetting. The Alzheimer's Association has been particularly proactive about helping children cope with and understand this disease. They suggest powerful books and resources to help young people understand and deal with the transition. Books such as the popular What's Happening to Grandpa? by Maria Shriver help depict the changes many children see in their grandparents and loved ones, shedding light on changes the elderly adults go through with Alzheimers and offering ways for children to react.

By teaching important values such as support, patience and unwavering love, books like these can help children understand that just because someone they love has Alzheimer's disease doesn't mean they should stop loving that person or letting them be an important part of their lives.