07/19/2013 11:25 am ET Updated Sep 18, 2013

How To Talk To Children About Alzheimer's Disease


In society today, Alzheimer's disease is surrounded with a certain stigma. To the general public, the condition is often labeled as being a cruel and heartbreaking disease that is not only difficult on the individual diagnosed, but on their friends and family as well. With characteristics such as these, it can only be described as any parent's nightmare to have to explain Alzheimer's disease to a child. However, with millions of elderly adults currently battling the disease, there are also millions of young grandchildren who must learn to handle this devastating condition.

Alzheimer's has been described as a disease so harsh that it truly robs people of their memories, their personality and even their humanity. Explaining this to a young person can be a truly difficult task for a parent, friend or loved one to take on. However, it is important that children and teens are informed of what is happening to their loved one and prepared for what the future progression of this condition may hold. This is why it is important to understand the best approaches to talking with children about Alzheimer's disease.

Preparing young people for the drastic changes that will take place over the progression of this disease can help make their interactions with their loved one with Alzheimer's better and more effective. When children know what to expect they may have less dramatic of a response to some of the new tendencies and behaviors that their loved one may exhibit. When it comes time to sit down and have this type of conversation, one of the most important things to keep in mind when preparing this individual is to keep the conversation age-appropriate.

It is important for adults to be as open as they can be with children about Alzheimer's disease. You should not be afraid to provide them with as much information as you feel they need to know, but it is important to present this information in an appropriate manner. If you are speaking with a teenager, do not try to hide obvious side effects of the condition from them or belittle them and treat them like a child. If you are addressing the topic with young people, let them know information will help them handle the situation better without over-indulging or getting into complicated medical terms.

While having these conversations, it is also imperative to embrace all types of emotions. The news may elicit different responses in different children, but overall, parents can expect children to be extremely overwhelmed by the news. Some may react with anger, others with tears and some may act as though nothing is wrong. It is important to embrace all reactions to the news.

It is also important that you give children time to process the information and encourage open communication about the news. Children should be encouraged to ask questions about Alzheimer's disease or questions about how they can expect their loved ones to change over time. Being open and comforting is often the best way to make certain that young children are able to handle this news is the best way possible.