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Special Challenges

What Do Kids Want to Know?

Teens yearn for interactions that diminish frustration, embarrassment, and anger, and want specific guidance from doctors, therapists, or relatives about how to engage their loved one. Pressuring kids "to spend time" with the family member suffering from dementia may add stress to each encounter. Instead, parents and friends should encourage adolescents to find mutually satisfactory activities without forcing exchanges. Shared suggestions include movies (no talking, for the most part, which eases the burden of communication), chess games, walks, or family photo album/ home movie viewing to revive good memories.

They want to understand the illness, but not in great detail, so energy spent obsessing about specific and often elusive diagnoses is better directed elsewhere. The more children want to learn, the more they will ask. Often, this evolves with their age, with older teenagers expressing a desire for more knowledge. Mostly, they want to feel secure that you will be able to manage, that you are getting help, and that despite this tragedy in your family, you will find happiness.

How and When to Tell Them?

Essentially, kids want to feel informed sooner rather than later, so don't wait in an effort to protect them. It doesn't work, because they will know something is wrong. Share the news in a conversation that allows them to express emotions and ask questions. The depth of details depends on the age of the child (kids 11 and older want more), but they have a very good sense of how much they can handle, and they can guide you.

Adolescents quickly grasp the actual or possible symptoms, because by the time the diagnosis rolls around, they've probably experienced a lot of odd behavior. They usually feel enormously sad - yet relieved - to learn that an illness has caused the changes in their loved one. But some are surprised and relieved to hear how much those behaviors can vary from one patient to another. Adults need to remind kids that no two patients are exactly alike, and no single patient exhibits all symptoms. Unpredictability is the only constant. When children know this, they can attribute all unpleasant interactions with their beloved family member to the illness, which can ease their anguish.

Learn more at the website constructed specifically for kids, adolescents, and teenagers who have a loved one diagnosed with dementia:
www.lifeandminds.ca/whendementiaisinthehouse/ts_home.html