Strong Families - Alzheimer’s and Kids

Alzheimer’s is a confusing disease that adults don't know much about.  And, it can be even more confusing for a child.  So, it’s important for parents and caregivers to help a child understand and cope when a loved one has Alzheimer’s.

These are snapshots of Richard Taylor also known as “Bud” - high school teacher, counselor, actor, sailor, volunteer at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo and grandfather.





Bud’s wife, Marsha, says changed when he turned 70- years old.  “In the beginning there was forgetfulness.  And not remembering that he’d done things.  And so, it was frustrating for both of us trying to figure out.  And there are good days and bad days.  Then, the driving became unsafe, unsafe lane changes and pulling out in front of cars and things that concerned me.”

Alzheimer’s in America
•           5.3 million Americans affected
•           Every 70 seconds someone will develop Alzheimer’s
Source:  Alzheimer’s Association, 2009

Bud was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2007.  He’s not alone.  According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 5.3 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease.  And every 70 seconds, someone will develop Alzheimer's. 

Margery Minney is the Executive Director of Valley Caregiver Resource Center (VCRC) in Fresno.  VCRC offers care giving advocacy and support for families in 9 counties throughout the San Joaquin Valley.  Margery says the disease usually develops after age 60, and the risk goes up with age.  “And generally we probably see one in every 10 of people who turn 65 and older who get the disease and then those 85 and older, probably a minimum of about 50 percent of them have dementia.”

Alzheimer’s disease
•           no known cause
•           no known way to prevent
•           no cure

Alzheimer’s disease
•           degenerative disorder of the brain
•           gradual memory loss
•           decline in other intellectual functions

Alzheimer’s is a puzzling disease.  There is no known cause, no known way to prevent it, nor is there a cure.  It is a de-generative disorder of the brain, which can produce a gradual loss of memory.  Margery adds that it can cause a decline in other intellectual functions.  “Not being able to communicate. This is one of the first issues that you see.  Part of it is because the person with memory loss is afraid they can’t find the words to express.  So, they quit trying to express what their feelings are. Not being able to perform normal tasks.”

A Family Disease

Margery calls Alzheimer’s a family disease, affecting loved ones of all ages, even the very young.  “For instance using a grandchild, maybe they haven’t been to visit grandma and grandpa for a couple of weeks and when they first burst in the house you got a 4 or 5 year old little girl who is exuberant.  Grandpa may not know who it is.  For a few minutes he may not recognize.”

Two years after being diagnosed, Bud remains involved in family life.  That includes activities with granddaughter Annika.  But Marsha says, those interactions have decreased.  “They’ll go out in the backyard together and just watch the dogs run around.  And um he’ll he likes to do puzzles and things with the kids and um.  It’s less now that he can do.  Um.  But when the other kids were younger they played games and lots of puzzles and things like that, but not as much interaction now.”

Common Questions Kids have about Alzheimer’s
•           “Will I get sick if I touch grandma?”
•           “Does grandpa still like me?”

Common questions from children include:  “Will I get sick if I touch grandma?”  Or, “Does grandpa still like me?”  “How do I talk to grandma and grandpa?”  Margery says, “They have a fear this person isn’t the same as they were before.  Are they going to upset them?  Maybe they say something and maybe grandpa isn’t in a good mood and he bites back at them.  There isn’t that control in his personality to handle it.  Many of them shy away.  They don’t want to come back because it is so different than it was before.”

Margery says it’s important that families visit their loved one with Alzheimer’s as often as possible.  “So, that it’s not a very frightening experience when the young child comes if they haven’t been there for 2 or three weeks.”

A child might feel a number of different emotions when a family member is suffering from Alzheimer's disease, including:
•           grief at the gradual losses their loved one experiences
•           loneliness due to a parent focusing his or her attention on the ill family member
•           self-consciousness about being in public with their loved one
•           fear about the chances that he or she might get Alzheimer’s
•           frustration due to changes in loved one’s behavior or personality
•           anxiety about how to relate to their loved one

Helping a child cope
•           assess the child's need for counseling
•           notify the child's teachers
•           keep the lines of communication open

A parent or caregiver can help a child cope by assessing the child’s need for counseling.  If needed, seek help.  They can also notify the child's teachers and provide them with information about Alzheimer's disease.  Good communication is really important.” It’s important to let the child know that a loved one is changing, and their thinking and their behavior may seem a bit unusual.  Answer a child’s questions about Alzheimer’s disease with age appropriate answers. Books can help.  VCRC has books that will help children have a better understanding of Alzheimer’s.  Educating your child about the disease can help to reduce fears and anxiety.

More info for Parents

Valley Caregiver Resource Center
(See our Resource page for an exclusive video about the services offered at VCRC.)
3845 North Clark Street, Suite 201
Fresno, CA 93726
224-9154 or TOLL FREE: (800) 541-8614

Older Adult Social Services (OASIS)

  • Provides individuals with Alzheimer's, other related dementias or brain impairment with something meaningful to do during the day while their caregivers are afforded the opportunity to take breaks, work outside of the home, or run errands. OASIS also provides training and support for family members and professional caregivers.

UCSF Fresno Alzheimer's & Memory Center
3313 North Hilliard Lane
Fresno, California 93726
227-4810, ext. 201

Alzheimer’s Association – Facts and Figures http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_facts_figures.asp

Alzheimer’s Association – Living with Alzheimer’s disease – For kids and teens http://www.alz.org/living_with_alzheimers_just_for_kids_and_teens.asp