Thursday, April 2, 2015

Preparing Children for Visiting a Granparent With Alzheimer's

Our visit to Oregon this year was marked by one major change.  It was the first time we have made a family visit there since the children's grandfather has moved from home with Grandma to a memory care center.

I wasn't sure how far Grandpa's Alzheimer's had progressed since we'd seen him last. It can be difficult to gauge from a distance. But, I knew there would be changes, and I wanted the children, especially my youngest two (ages 8 and 10) to be prepared.

I wanted them to understand as much as possible what was happening, so they could enjoy their time with their grandfather, rather than spending it being afraid, hurt, or confused.

I picked up several simple picture books written specifically for, or about children with grandfathers suffering from Alzheimer's (there are also plenty out there about grandmas with Alzheimer's, too).  

What's Wrong With Grandpa? by Danielle S. Cohen, self illustrated with childlike, crayon drawings, was a nice place to start.  It is a very simple, straightforward story of the love shared, and kept between a little girl and her grandfather as their roles begin to reverse due the disease neither of them fully understands.

Always My Grandpa tells the story of a little boy, first in denial, then angry and embarrassed, and finally accepting of what his grandfather is going through, ready to love and help him as he can.

What's Happening to Grandpa? by Maria Shriver is a well written story about the importance of family, and of how a family can come together to support each other, and hold on to what is important as Alzheimer's tries to tear it away. (Note:  This is the only book out the four listed here, that I was able to read aloud to the children without crying.)

The Memory Box by Mary Bahr like Shriver's story offers a solution of action, as one family, faced with the loss of memory due to Alzheimer's fights back by creating a "memory box", a special box in which to place stories and mementos to be passed down from one generation of a family to the next.  And, as the family in the story works to create their memory box, they also learn to enjoy each other and live together in the moment.

No two grandpas are the same, and Alzheimer's effects individuals differently, but even so, we found little bits of our story in each of the stories we read.  I let the children read and digest the books on their own before our trip.  Then, when returned home, we read them out loud, and talked about them, and our visit, together.

It didn't make things right, but reading about other children, and grandparents working through similar feelings, did seem to make it easier for the girls.  Which in turn, made it a little easier for Grandpa, too.


Angelic Scalliwags said...

Before I had children I was a community nurse interested in working with the elderly. My Granny and my Great Aunt had dementia, although I don't think theirs was ever confirmed as being Alzheimer's.
I always thoroughly enjoyed my work and looking at your beautiful photo's of your precious family together brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for posting on such an important subject and so sensitively. I'm sure your book recommendations will help others in a similar situation. Hugs from me to you, Leah.xx

maryanne @ mama smiles said...

I remember visiting my great-grandfather who had Alzheimer's when I was a child. I love the way you prepared your children for this, and the books you have referenced here sound excellent.

Rach said...

Oh the first picture is priceless and we don't even know each other... Sweet and precious. Thanks for sharing.

storyland4 said...


Ticia said...

Excuse me while I go grab a tissue. We have not dealt with Alzheimer's yet for my kids, but there is much discussion about it between Jeff and I.

Natalie PlanetSmartyPants said...

Alzheimer is hard! I experienced it as a teenager when my grandfather came to live with us, and it was not always easy to deal with his temper changes and other things. I wish I knew more about it back then. It sounds like your girls had a good visit with their great grandpa.

Karin Huber said...

Great post about a good idea. Thanks for sharing.