The law of nature is that parents have children and care for their children until the children grow up to care for themselves. Far too often, this "law" is circumvented by reality. A parent dies young from cancer. A parent is disabled in a car accident or gets Multiple Sclerosis. Or a parent gets early on-set Alzheimer's disease.
These scenarios turn the whole concept of parents caring for children on its head. The child is stripped of the parenting that was considered a given. The parent is frightened not only about about having the disease, but about the effect this will have on his or her children.
Kids faced with these devastating changes in their lives often feel alone. Other kids have "regular" parents. Many want to hide their circumstances and their sorrow. They don't want to be considered "different." And they also may be embarrassed by the behavior of a parent with a disease.
I've written about several children's books on Alzheimer's, however they are all geared toward grandparents having the disease. That too, is an emotional issue. But it pales when compared to the issues faced by kids who are watching their relatively young parents cope with Alzheimer's. When you are a teen and your parent has developed dementia, you don't have the cushion of a generation between you - a generation that can still take care of you - so the emotions are even more raw.
People in Oklahoma have a camp for 13-16 year olds who are experiencing such a dramatic change in their lives. Called Camp building Bridges, it is a respite camp for young teens who have a parent with early on-set Alzheimer's. The camp provides the kids with six days away from the stress of trying to cope with their parent's disease and the changes that go along with it. It also provides education and coping mechanisms.
However, to me the most important part of the camp is that it offers these kids a chance to meet their peers that are coping with the same issues. They no longer feel alone. Even adults desperately need this knowledge, which is why sites like OurAlzheimer's exist.
I'd love to hear about more camps of this nature. I'd also like to see more teen support online. Today's teens cut their teeth on the Internet and so the Web is a natural way for them to communicate their emotions.
To learn about this particular camp, and perhaps gets some pointers in how to get one started in your area, you can go to the Camp Building Bridges Web site. Maybe your area Alzheimer's organization can consider setting up such a camp, even if it's just a day camp within the city. These children can use all the support they can get. If your life is affected by early on-set Alzheimer's in any way, see if there's anything available for kids in your area.
Published On: July 21, 2008