Alzheimer’s Heartache: young family members adjusting to a grandparent or parent with dementia.

Posted on Updated on

The 7-year-old child says, “I don’t want to visit Grammy anymore.  She doesn’t remember me and she scares me!”

My daughter in 1st grade. Would she have been able to handle visits with her Grandpa at that age?

This is a major dilemma with adult children whose parent has dementia.  It’s difficult for the adult to reconcile their parent’s disease progression – and they have a fairly comprehensive understanding of the disease that is robbing them of their parent.  Now imagine a child’s inability to comprehend the disease.  All they know is that Grandma seems upset when the child visits and on top of that, no longer recognizes him.  When one considers that adult children sometimes dread visits with their mother or father with Alzheimer’s or other dementia, it seems easier to just let those visits slide for the younger members of the family.  My daughter was an adult when her Grandpa was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.  I can only proffer a guess at what I might have tried in order to make her visits with him a comfortable experience.

Should parents force their children to visit the person whom the child has started to fear?

Forcing anyone to do anything isn’t always the best strategy to follow.  In these circumstances, it could almost be considered cruel.  My grandparents lived in a different country than my family.  Us three kids saw our grandparents maybe six times before they died.  Having the opportunity to live near an older relative would have been a novelty for me as I’ve always envied those who grew up with Grandma and Grandpa nearby.  With that said, however, I acknowledge that close proximity alone in this situation is not a sufficient motivator.

How can grandchildren still maintain a relationship with their Grandma and Grandpa?

The distracted visit – visiting but doing his own thing as well.  If the parents are able to provide some sort of distracting activity while visiting Grandma, the child might get more accustomed to their grandparent’s behavior.   The child casually observes how mom and dad interact with Grandma – while still being able to watch their favorite video or play with their hand-held electronic game – and gradually feels more secure being there.  Over time, but certainly not immediately, he may realize that Grandma is no longer someone to be feared and may attempt his own interaction with her.

Parents visit without the child and provide engaging updates to their child when they get home.  Parents can keep their child connected by telling him the funny/cute thing Grandma said that day when they visited and also making the child aware of the positive things that are happening in Grandma’s life to balance out the overwhelming negative that pervades it.  Who knows, this reporting tactic might actually lead to the child’s “distracted visit” next week.  Curiosity may be just the ticket that gives the child the desire to see Grandma.

There’s SO much more that needs to be said on this topic.

I haven’t even addressed the issue of early-onset dementia that thrusts young children and teens into an extremely challenging relationship with a parent whose disease robs their children of the guidance that their parent might normally provide during their adolescence. What can you, the Baby Boomers and More Blog audience, contribute to that very unfortunate, and ever-increasing reality, in today’s world?

I’m very much looking forward to what you can add – successes and failures – that will benefit those of us searching for advice and guidance.

4 thoughts on “Alzheimer’s Heartache: young family members adjusting to a grandparent or parent with dementia.

    […] How can it be done? -Music would be a great way for the two generations to interact, as it changes dramatically from one era to another, as does dancing. And as previously discussed music can open many doors for someone living with dementia. – Would like to see work towards a debate perhaps inter-schools competition about dementia, possible activities, fund raising, awareness raising, why there is such stigma. So many topics children/young people could talk about and bring new ideas to the table. -Make it a class in schools? Include it in a part of the current curriculum? PSHE? Science? – In the US they are starting to involve the boy and girl scouts, is this something that has been tried in the UK? Or anywhere else worldwide? -Also check out a fellow bloggers thoughts on how to make visits to a loved one with dementia a bit easier for younger members of the family… […]


    […] youngster into what could be a scary or challenging environment for a child.  One of my articles, “Alzheimer’s Heartache: young family members adjusting to a grandparent or parent with d…addresses the difficulties that families oftentimes experience in long-term care (LTC) settings.  I […]


    Don said:
    December 11, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    Thank you for this great beginning to an important dialogue. My wife has early-onset dementia. Her loving home is currently the memory care section of a nearby assisted living residence. In addition to the myriad areas of her care I attend to, a primary goal of mine – mission is a more apt term – is to learn how best to engage my wife and make her environment as stimulating, meaningful and enjoyable as I can. In turn, I am constantly sharing what I’m doing and what I learn with her family, children and friends. Hopefully, this will ease their interaction with her and lessen the fear, uncertainty, and anxiety that accompanies their facing a friend, mother or grandmother that is no longer the person she used to be. The hardest thing in the world is to engage with someone whose cognitive abilities are in constant flux – who is in a “new normal” today that might not be the same tomorrow.


      boomer98053 said:
      December 12, 2011 at 12:58 pm

      I am very fortunate to have received a suggestion to bring up this topic by someone who answered my “What Topics Interest You” entry from Dec. 8, 2011. His or her request was very opportune because everyone who knows anything about dementia knows that it’s VERY difficult to connect with someone who has cognitive impairment. Children who are accustomed to their grandparent, or their parent, being on top of things and providing nurture and guidance to them, are at a loss to effectively interact with their loved one. I sincerely hope to receive many more comments and suggestions on how to resolve this Alzheimer’s heartache.


What's on your mind?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.