Posted on November 28, 2011 by

The Role of Children in Alzheimer’s Care

A caregiver’s age can vary from a 12-year-old to someone in their nineties. Many families welcome parents and grandparents with Alzheimer’s into their home to care for them and keep them safe.

There will be times, though, when a parent might need to ask his or her teenage son or daughter to watch the memory-impaired grandparent while the parent is out running errands or just going out for the evening. If you have a responsible teen, by all means go out as a couple and try to maintain the romance in your relationship. The stress of caregiving is notorious for ripping families apart.

Explain to all of your children exactly what’s going on with their grandparent. Children are quite keen on what is happening around them. Withholding information in an attempt to shield them from confusion or pain will ultimately make the situation worse. Assure them that this disease is not contagious. Express that there will be plenty of unfamiliar behavior and changes coming from the grandparent and that they shouldn’t be alarmed.

Children tend to be flexible and will usually bounce back quickly from the strong emotions that will constantly be surrounding them while living with an Alzheimer’s patient.

Prepare them ahead of time that the grandparents with Alzheimer’s will eventually forget their names and even who they are. They’ll most likely shout at them for making too much noise or running in the house. My father had absolutely no recognition of any of his grandchildren or great-grandchildren during the last few years of his life.

Once again, point out that the patient is not to blame for his or her odd behavior, it is a direct result of the advancement of the disease.

There are some children who relate well to memory-impaired patients and develop a special relationship with them. You may wish to enlist their help with simple caregiving chores to help care for their grandparent.

What you might have to be concerned with is those few times when kids can be mean. Teasing or ridiculing the patient, will cause a mountain of confusion. It’s sad to say, but there could be times when patients may need to be protected from their own grandchildren.

If this is the case have another heart-to-heart with them. Youngsters may be acting out from feeling cheated that a parent is spending quality time with the patient rather than with them.

It’s heartbreaking enough for an adult to witness what happens to a loved one dying from Alzheimer’s; just imagine how devastating it is for a grandchild. Telling a young child that Grandpa Joe isn’t crazy, he’s dying from a fatal disease, is difficult for any kid to understand. I firmly believe it’s best to prepare them now instead of trying to explain death when everybody is an emotional wreck. Honesty works best with children.

You may want to arrange a meeting with the childrens’ school. Talk to their teachers and counselors explaining the circumstances at home. Their behavior might become noticeably different when they are away attending class.


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November 29, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Thank you for an article that shares some important information about dealing with Alzheimer’s between the generations.

Don Canaan

December 14, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Home care is truly what should be accepted for an Alzheimer’s patient but we do not live in a perfect world. Caregivers must work and earn money because government subsidies are not really consistently available

Loved ones are shunted to nursing homes, away from families and friends. Visitors are far and few between and the loved one becomes worse, either by him/herself or via administered drugs.

What could result from this conundrum is shown in the latest novel by Shawn Graves and Don Canaan–abandonment. Check our website, and read the first chapter below:


“Well, aren’t you a pretty little thing?”

Laura froze. The sounds of the fair were drowned out by the roar in her ears. It was already warm and promised to be a hot day, but she was suddenly chilled…and a little girl again.

“Daddeee…..I’m scared!”

One of her earliest memories was sitting in one of the cars on the Ferris wheel as it rocked lazily back and forth. The wheel had stopped with their car at the very top and all of Fresno and the surrounding areas spread out from the fair grounds, the lights of thousands of homes and businesses twinkling in the night.

She clung to her father, squealing with equal amounts of horror and glee each time she peeked out over the edge of the car to look down on all of the people. It only took a few seconds before she buried her face against her father’s shirt, the fabric fisted in both small hands. His arm around her made her feel safe in a way that not even the belt around her waist and the safety bar locked over their laps could.

She couldn’t have been more than three years old, much too short for the ride. How had her father convinced the operator to let her on? It wasn’t too hard to figure out. Laura’s father was persuasive and used to getting his way; in his business, in stores, in restaurants, in his home. One thing he always wanted was whatever would make her happy. Nothing was too good for his only daughter. He made sure she had the best clothes, the best toys, and the best education. If she had pointed her chubby hand at the monstrous ride and said, “Ride, p’ease, Daddy?” he would have done whatever it took to get her on.

She didn’t know if he had taken her to the fair that first year after her birth, but certainly by the following year he had begun what would be a yearly tradition. Although he hadn’t lived in Fresno for years before she was born, he had fond memories of the fair from his own childhood. He had been raised there in the days when Fresno was a rural agricultural town. Going to the fair was one of the few luxuries his parents had managed to afford. Taking her back to his home town every year became a ritual that nothing was allowed to disrupt.

From the beginning it was a father-daughter only trip. Laura’s mother was neither invited, nor did she seem interested. They always went the first day the fair opened, arriving at the gate before it opened and staying until well after dark. She slept in the back seat as he drove home, but even so, she was always tired and cranky the next morning. When she was old enough for school she was allowed to stay home and rest.

No matter what was happening at work, the opening day of the fair was theirs. It continued every year, even after she entered her teens and her father was the last person she wanted to go to the fair, or anywhere else, with. But he insisted and he always got his way. The last time she went to the fair with him was nine years earlier, the year she was twenty five. She was engaged to be married in six months and she decided that it was juvenile for a married woman to continue going to the fair with her father.

Laura watched the Ferris wheel, remembering. She remembered the exhilaration of rising in the air, the way her stomach did flip-flops as they descended. Most of all, she remembered being three years old. She remembered thinking her father was the biggest, strongest, bravest man in the world. She remembered that feeling of assurance that nothing could hurt her as long as he was holding her.

She looked over at him now. It was the first day of the fair and she was there once again with her father. He didn’t look big, or strong, or particularly brave. Today he just seemed…lost. His hair was white; he didn’t stand as straight as she remembered from her childhood. He certainly didn’t exude the confidence and authority that had always convinced everyone from powerful CEOs to Ferris wheel operators to accede to his wishes.

“Daddy, do you remember taking me on the Ferris wheel?”

He smiled at her.

“I think there’s time for nine holes before that meeting.”

“Dad, we aren’t at the golf course. We’re at the fair. Remember? The Fresno Fair? You and I used to come every year.”

“I just need to pick up my clubs.”

He ambled away and Laura followed a few feet behind, watching him stop to bend down and pick up an imaginary tee. The exhaustion of the last two years suddenly settled over her, along with the familiar resentment of having put her life on hold. The life that had fallen apart. As they neared the exhibit halls, she caught up to him.

“Dad, do you want something to eat?”

“We have a foursome and it’s too beautiful a day to waste indoors.”

“You don’t even know who I am, do you,” she sighed.

He patted her hand where it rested on his arm.

“Well, aren’t you a pretty little thing?”

Laura released his arm as he knelt to put the imaginary tee in the dirt. Reaching into her purse, she ripped a piece of paper from her notebook and located a pen. She quickly wrote on the paper and when he stood up, she folded the paper and tucked it into the breast pocket of his shirt.

“The boys want to meet in the bar for drinks before we start,” he told her.

“The clubhouse is right over there,” she replied, pointing to the Home Arts Building just across the grass.

He smiled and headed in that direction. She watched him, knowing that within a few steps he had already forgotten where he was going. The tide of people broke around her as she stood, feeling her heart pound in her chest. He followed the crowd of people moving toward the building. He stepped through the large open doors and into the shade. The crowd closed around him and then her father disappeared from her sight. Still she stood there, her eyes watching the doorway.

For five minutes she waited, and then she pulled the strap of her purse onto her shoulder and began walking away from the building. She walked to a different gate from the one they had entered less than an hour earlier. Refusing a stamp on her wrist that would allow her to reenter the fairgrounds later, she slipped through the exit. She walked to the parking lot where she had parked her car. Sliding behind the wheel, she started the car and turned the air conditioning on. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and rested her forehead against the steering wheel for several moments. Finally, she backed out of the parking space, and pulled out onto Chance Avenue. She made her way slowly through the busy streets until she found the entrance to Highway 41. Merging into the southbound lanes, Laura drove away from Fresno. Away from her memories.

“Well, aren’t you a pretty little thing?”

Download the latest eBook by Shawn Graves & Don Canaan, “Dutiful Daughter” ($2.99)


December 21, 2011 at 3:55 am

Thank you for this article. My son – who was 11 when my mother passed away with alzheimer’s and cancer. We were always open and honest with him about her situation and they had always had shared a special bond. He loved her and chose to spend many hours with her, reading with her, playing cards, helping her, letting her win, and answering the same questions. 🙂 It was a huge life lesson and we were so very proud of him.

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