When my father’s dementia was progressing a few years ago, I was struggling with what to tell my young twins…
I knew that that his unpredictable behavior and actions had reached a point where the elephant in the room couldn’t be ignored any longer. Fortunately, I had been the recipient of some healthy advice from a very wise friend a few years earlier – and applied it here. She told me that as far as the kids were concerned, I should make things a part of their history – not some big secret they discover years later. So I applied the same thinking when discussing Dad’s dementia.
Using words that were on their 5 year old level, I simply said that their grandfather was sick, and that he didn’t want to be sick. Being sick meant that sometimes he couldn’t control himself. The most important thing was that he was their grandfather, and my father, and we would love him when he was sick just like we would when he wasn’t sick.
In their minds, this was enough of an explanation for those awkward moments that seemed so frequent. Now, years later, we have the groundwork for conversations about dementia, and I find them to be admirably comfortable around seniors – a fact that I’d like to attribute to our experiences with Dad.
Many of you may find yourselves struggling with the “How much do I say?” question, or with wondering about protecting little ones from the not-so-pretty truth about aging. By giving our children information that they can process, and creating a safe environment to talk through what they experience, we are in fact, giving them coping skills that will carry them far in life. Keep the conversations open, honest and frequent. Though processing things may be a little painful or confusing for us, I think you’ll find yourself being proud of your children or grandchildren as they openly love their aging grandparents without judgment.
-Susie Sarkisian, Director of Family Services