The human brain is like a puzzle, Paul Miller, Cipla Medpro’s CEO tells Parent24.
"Sometimes," he says, "as a result of dementia, the 'puzzle pieces' get scrambled or some of the pieces are missing, so it's very challenging for the person living with dementia and their loved ones. Dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease in particular, can have a tremendous impact on families."
In families where this is an issue, he advises that parents let their children know that someone with dementia might look healthy on the outside, but help them to the understand that the brain is an organ which has become ill, so is not always working properly.
"Let your children know what changes to expect," he says, "and the impact it might have on your family. Encourage children to ask questions, and try to answer them as honestly and as age-appropriately as possible."
Millar says that parents need to teach children that the brain is an organ – just like the heart or lungs – and can therefore also become ill, and that dementia is an illness which affects older people’s brains.
"Because the brain controls the entire body, when it becomes ill, it negatively affects the functions which the brain is responsible for performing," he describes. "Therefore, people with dementia may start acting strange or forget things. Dementia is not contagious, like chicken pox, and sadly, there is no cure for it."
Never let them be forgotten
A local campaign for Alzheimer’s is helping grandkids and grandparents preserve memories together through puzzle making, highlighting the importance of stimulating the brain.
When you upload a family photograph to the Cipla website, they will print your photo onto a puzzle and arrange for it to be delivered to you, for no cost, for families to play with together.
Explaining dementia to children
According to the Alzheimer’s Society, it is important to discuss the diagnosis with your children. Discussing, their handy brochure explains, means both talking and listening, with listening being perhaps the most valuable part of the conversation.
They highlight these important talking points:
- Explain the situation as clearly and calmly as possible.
- Try to use simple examples of behaviour that might seem strange, such as the person with dementia forgetting where they are or wearing a hat in bed.
- Focus on the things that the person can still do, as well as those that are becoming more difficult.
- Try to be patient. You may need to repeat your explanations on different occasions, depending on the age of the child or young person.
- Encourage the child or young person to ask questions, if they have them.
- Ask how the person’s dementia makes the child or young person feel. Listen carefully to what they have to say and try to imagine the situation from their point of view. This will help you find out exactly what might be worrying them.
- Give the child or young person plenty of reassurance and hugs, where appropriate.
- Don’t be afraid to use humour, if it feels appropriate. It often helps if you can laugh about the situation together.
Also see this Parent's Guide for advice about answering children's common questions on the topic: Alzheimer s Association Parent's Guide
Compiled for Parent24 by Elizabeth Mamacos
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