Preparing Children to Visit a Loved One with Memory Loss
Watching a loved one assimilate, flourish and thrive in memory care, knowing they have the support and guidance they need on difficult days, is comforting. And for those who are familiar with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, helping a loved one relocate to memory care and spending time with them in their new home can be rewarding. As memory loss progresses, it’s heartening to see our loved one receive the attention and patience they deserve.
While memory care has a distinct value for those living with memory loss, many people still feel uncomfortable or out of place while visiting a loved one in a long-term care setting. The very nature of dementia can be unsettling or overwhelming for most people, but is particularly challenging for younger children who may have more trouble coping with seeing someone change as their condition progresses. It’s important these feelings of discomfort don’t become a barrier between grandchildren and their grandparents—people with memory loss benefit from regular visits and socialization, and children can enjoy meaningful memories with loved ones.
To ensure a pleasant visit and a stable environment for both child and senior, consider these steps for helping children feel secure, compassionate and patient with an older adult with memory loss.
1. Have an honest conversation about memory loss
Before making any plans, it’s important to make sure children understand how their grandparent or loved one may react or behave. This information can be upsetting or confusing, and the exact details you include may depend on how old your child is and how close they are to the person you’re visiting. When talking about dementia, it’s important to discuss more than memory loss. Try to paint a complete picture beforehand by talking about other symptoms your loved one may be experiencing, like mood swings or trouble communicating.
2. Offer reassurance, even if it doesn’t seem necessary
There are many things you can’t control when visiting someone in memory care. While you may not be able to prevent your loved one from having an outburst, you can manage how to respond when it happens. Children and teenagers can be quick to blame themselves when a loved one acts out. Giving them the right information beforehand and offering reassurance throughout the visit can help ease some of these feelings and create a safe, supportive environment.
3. Coordinate with staff about your visit
Let the community know about your plans to visit, and make sure to tell staff you’re bringing a young person with you. If this will be your child’s first time at a memory care neighborhood, be sure to mention that when you schedule your visit. Caregivers at the community can better prepare your loved one for the visit and work with you to find the best time, space and activities for a meaningful and comfortable experience.
4. Let children be involved, but don’t leave them in charge
Assigning simple caregiving activities can help kids feel more comfortable with their loved one. Tasks like getting a glass of water or reading books aloud can help them feel helpful without being overwhelmed. It’s important, however, to make sure tasks are age appropriate and not overly demanding, as this can be stressful or burdensome. Above all, children should not be left in charge, no matter how well they’re doing in the situation. Avoid leaving kids alone with your loved one for even short periods of time until you’re sure of how well they’re coping.
5. Talk to them and answer questions after the visit
Whether everything went well or ended in a meltdown, make yourself available to answer questions and talk more about memory loss if needed. In some cases, children might need some time to reflect on their experience before going into detail, so the key is to be respectful and open.
Ideally, after a great first visit, you’ll be able to bring kids along for more frequent trips.
Because dementia worsens with time, waiting too long between visits can make it more difficult for kids and teens to cope with the effects of memory loss. The experience can feel like witnessing a sudden and drastic change, creating a sense of shock or fear. Depending on the progression of the disease, bringing children to visit a loved one in memory care may become very difficult—making it all the more important to create opportunities for positive interactions early on.
If you’re still in the early stages of planning a transition to memory care, see our recent blogs for tips to make the decision and relocation as smooth as possible: