How to Talk to Your Grandkids About Alzheimer's

I was 13 years old when my Poppop was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. I had no idea at the time, of course. What I knew was that everything in our world was changing. In a short period of time my grandparents moved from suburban Philadelphia to the Poconos and I learned how to work a combination lock.

The things left unsaid

Speaking about my Poppop's disease was not something that was done among the members of the family. I know because we were not a family to shield children from many parts of life, so if the conversations were happening, I would have heard it.

What I did hear about was 3 years later when they needed to come back, and do so in a hurry, and weren't in a good financial position to do it.

0/10 would not recommend telling your grandchildren in such a manner, which is not to tell them. Instead of your kids and grandkids having to Sherlock Holmes their way to the information, try talking to them.

Say it out loud

"Poppop is sick." It's something that needs to be said and needs to be heard. Depending on the comprehension level of the child you'll share different parts of it with them. Suffice it to say you'll need to point out that it's a different kind of sick than the sniffles or a cold, it's in his brain.

Discuss ways that it manifests

Poppop would obviously be forgetful, that's a basic that a child needs to know. But it's more than, "He might call you by your brother's name." It could be forgetting to close the front door, putting their cell phone in the refrigerator, or being less attentive to their hygiene.

The other key point that I think is important to touch on is that Poppop may get mad or sad or frustrated quickly. But Poppop is not mad at you, it's his sickness.

Things they are changing

Ultimately, it's important to discuss as a family that Poppop is going to be okay and here to love us for a while. Just as you get older and your ability to do and like things changes, adults also have changing abilities and interests. This means that Poppop is going to change and he needs our love and support to be healthy and happy as he does so.

And then he told me

And then Poppop started saying, "The doctors say my brain looks healthy," and murmuring about "Reagan's disease." Eventually, someone put the words to it: Alzheimer's. In a post-Grey's Anatomy world, I knew what it was. It was unfair. It was unfun. It was something to whisper about. At least, that's the impression that our kids and grandkids will get if you don't talk about it.

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