Pre-teens and teenagers tend to want to fit in with their peers. Most kids, during those years, are keenly aware of any differences between their family and that of their friends. How do these kids cope when a grandparent or a parent has Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia?
My sons were young teens when their grandfather had surgery that left him with dementia. Literally overnight, the boys saw their loving, intelligent grandfather become a confused, delusional stranger. The looks on their faces told me everything I needed to know. These boys were deeply wounded. They had their own struggle to face in order to accept what had happened to their grandfather.
Their grandfather didn’t live in our home, so they didn’t face the challenge of introducing him to their friends. They didn’t face the challenge of trying to explain his often strange behavior. However, they still had to cope with the emotional fallout.
Many children have a grandparent with dementia living in the home. Even harder, a significant number of children have a parent who has developed early on-set Alzheimer’s. These situations demand of the youngster coping skills that may be beyond what they have developed, so counseling can be of significant value.
I’ve heard from many spouses of those affected by early on-set AD, and they are often worried about their young teens. The kids no longer want to bring home friends because Mom or Dad may act “weird.” The same can be said for homes where a grandparent with dementia is part of the immediate household. However, properly handled, these situations can help children mature and perhaps educate their peers.
Counseling and support groups can help
If the school counselor has a background in helping children accept that there is someone different in their home, some sessions with that counselor may be helpful. Otherwise, it’s probably wise for the parents to schedule private counseling sessions. This trained professional can help the children learn to accept the emotional pain that comes with watching someone they love decline cognitively and physically.
The counselor may also be able to challenge the youngster to help educate peers about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Not all kids will be able to take this proactive step, but if they can, they may find comfort in knowing that they aren’t alone in their pain. They will meet other kids who have similar situations.
Even if a school counselor isn’t qualified to help your youngster cope with the emotional adjustment necessary when someone they love has dementia, the counselor could help coordinate a support group for kids in similar situations. Knowing that other kids need to cope with loved ones with dementia or mental illness can help young people understand that their family isn’t so different after all.