A Modern Day Fairy Tale: Aging Grandparents: Helping Your Family Cope With An Alzheimer's Diagnosis

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Aging Grandparents: Helping Your Family Cope With An Alzheimer's Diagnosis

As our parent’s age, our families are faced with the effects of their changing health and living situations. While this is a natural part of life, that doesn’t make it any easier. Alzheimer’s in particular can be a difficult diagnosis to cope with, especially if you have children. Over 5 million people are living with this disease in the United States, and its behavioral impact can be felt by the whole family.

The first time your parent forgets their grandchild’s name can be painful to say the least. This comes with a host of complications. You need to determine their long term care plan, explain these changes to your children, and make sure everyone is coping emotionally.

And it may all feel like too much.

Fortunately, you are more capable than you think, and there are specific steps you can take to make these changes easier on your family. Start with empathy and compassion to gently approach this transition.

Communicating With Your Children

Explaining why grandma or grandpa is having more difficulty remembering things, repeating themselves, and behaving in general can be a difficult conversation to start with your child. But remember to stick with what feels natural. They may ask you questions about why this is happening to their grandparent. Answer them, but remember that you do not have to explain the medical diagnosis in detail.

One of the best steps you can take to help your children is to encourage normalcy. While the family dynamic may change slightly, find activities that you can all do together. This will help your child get used to the situation slowly. And if this doesn’t seem to help, don’t hesitate to hire a counselor.  

Showing Support For An Aging Parent

With or without Alzheimer’s, your parent would have been going through a life transition during their aging years anyway. With more than two thirds of U.S. health costs going toward treating chronic illnesses, this cost makes up 95% of health care costs for older Americans, according to the 2013 State of Aging and Health in America. This is why long term care is so important, especially when your parent has a disease like Alzheimer’s. So, whether you are your loved one’s primary caregiver or if they live in an assisted living community, there are steps you can take to show your support.

One of the best ways you can show your love during this transition is to simply be present. Visit them often, bring them flowers, and engage them in conversation. Despite their diagnosis, they are still a central member of your family and should be treated as such. Ask them how they are doing and show that you are there for them -- through the good days and the bad.

Above All: Act With Compassion

The golden rule of family care, acting with compassion is key. Your parent is still the same person they were before their diagnosis, and they should still be a part of their grandchildren’s lives.

But remember to go easy on yourself and still practice essential self-care.

“Caring for someone with Alzheimer's could be the toughest job you ever have,” according to alzheimers.gov. “It's important to stay physically and emotionally healthy when you are providing care. It is not selfish to worry about your own health -- taking care of yourself means you will be there for the person who needs you.”

When your family works together to take care of each other, as well as your aging parent, you can create a healthy, loving environment for everyone to cope with these life changes.

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"Pleasant words are as a honeycomb: sweet to the soul and health to the bones." Proverbs 16:24