Why is it important to educate children about Alzheimer's disease?

Jan 16, 2024

This year we will be posting blogs about the importance of making children aware of Alzheimer’s disease. A free resource will accompany each blog. 

Reason #1 for why it is important to educate children about Alzheimer’s disease is so that they will be comfortable being around and interacting with a loved one who has the disease. 

 Story: Alder’s seven-year-old niece, Olivia, who had a healthy and fun relationship with her Gran (Alder’s mother) came to visit the summer after Gran was showing signs of Alzheimer’s. Olivia drew monsters to help her with challenging or scary situations such as schoolwork or storms and kept them in her ‘monster box’ she brought with her to show her Gran. During the visit, the monster box disappeared. Olivia got somewhat hysterical and accused her Gran of stealing the monsters. The monsters were found in a clothes basket in Gran’s closet upstairs where Gran had put them. Of course, Olivia wanted to know why Gran would take her monsters and put them there. Alder had to find a way to explain Gran’s behavior to Olivia and heal the relationship. Resources were lacking but Alder managed to calm down Olivia and explain to her that Gran’s brain was not working right and she did not mean to do anything wrong. Gran just wanted to put the monsters away to keep them safe.

Not knowing why a person is acting strange can be more distressing than learning the reason for the change in behavior.

Information: Children are incredibly observant of their environment, and they are hard-wired to learn and adapt to survive. They will notice that their loved one is acting strange, particularly if they knew their loved one as a healthy person. Here are two behaviors that will tip you off that the child has noticed a difference in their loved one.

  1. They are reluctant to spend time with their loved one.
  2. They demand your attention when you are interacting with your loved one.

Tip: Our FREE What is Alzheimer’s Disease? Video on our website is a great starting point for explaining Alzheimer’s to children or grandchildren. Access the video at this link: https://www.mackenziemeetsalzheimers.com/pl/2147838215

Activity: Show our What is Alzheimer’s Disease? video to the children in your life and use the following cereal activity to help them understand what happens in the brain of a person who has the disease. 

Discuss with the child how different parts of the brain control thoughts and actions. Explain to them that one part of the brain tells the body it’s thirsty, another tells it what it wants to drink; another tells it to go to the refrigerator; another tells the arm to reach for the cabinet to get a glass, etc. 

Then get a bowl full of dry cereal and tell the child the cereal represents the brain cells. For every step to get something to drink, have the child take out a spoonful of cereal to demonstrate what Alzheimer’s is doing to the brain; how the brain becomes less and less able to function properly because it’s losing brain cells. 

Once children understand what’s happening in the brain of a loved one who has Alzheimer’s or any type of dementia, they are more inclined to feel safe, feel comfortable, and willingly interact with a loved one who has the disease. This will reduce the burden on the caregiver because children can do activies with their loved one and give the responsible adult a break.

Action: Watch the free “What is Alzheimer’s Disease?” Video with you children and talk about Alzheimer’s disease. Please email us at [email protected] to let us know what you and your children thought of the video, how the cereal activity went, and what questions you or they have. We want to produce content you find beneficial and your responses will help us do that. 

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Share this blog with anyone who would benefit from this information, particularly if they have children or grandchildren.

Remember: Love and understanding are the only things we need to help us cope with Alzheimer's that thonky disease.

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