grandkids 01 325X215One of the greatest joys in life is the relationship between a grandchild and grandparent. Unfortunately, not every child has the opportunity to spend time and really know their grandparents due to any number of factors, including having a deceased grandparent, geographic separation, and increasingly more common --- the effects of dementia.

Dementia robs an individual of their personality and dramatically alters the relationships of those around them – spouses, children, and grandchildren. Dementia is particularly painful for those who witness the harrowing transformation from who they were into who they are with dementia. The silver lining is that they had the opportunity to know the individual.

This is not true for some grandchildren of individuals with dementia.

We asked one of the most respected dementia educators in the world, Teepa Snow, who trains health and senior professionals across the nation, what advice she has for grandchild/grandparent interaction:

How can families encourage interaction between a grandchild and a grandparent with dementia?
1.    Explain the situation.
“The most important thing is for child to understand that the grandparent is going through changes. They are not who they used to be and may act erratically. The most important thing is the child understands that, regardless of the situation, the grandparent does love them,” says Snow. “Families need to let go of idea that granny will behave. Teach kids that grandma is different, and might not recognize them or even at times be nice.”

2.    Make everyone comfortable.
Many times when a child is present the attention goes to the child. It may good to sometimes visit a grandparent with dementia without the child. If a child is present for the visit, let the child know that they are there to visit the elder and set the expectation that they are not the focus. Similarly, the elder should be comfortable, in a relaxed setting, with no expectations or pressure.

3.    Encourage participation.
Snow also recommends taking a toy and allowing the child to play independently in front of the grandparent. The grandparent can observe, and if they wish to participate and interact with the child, they can do so. This allows the elder to have control of their participation and not force them into an activity. It is also a good idea for the child and parent to prepare to bring activities or hobbies of interest to the grandparent. Many times the grandparent will want to participate, especially if the activity is something they once enjoyed or were good at. If the senior enjoyed playing the piano, go to a where a piano is and let them listen to another player or invite them to play. Oftentimes they will become interested and participate, ultimately creating a wonderful memory for the child.

Teens have hardest time because they also experience significant psychological and emotional changes; they can be impulsive and impatient and not understand the other’s point of view.  “Like engaging a teen, it is necessary to make all feel comfortable and encourage participation in an activity. This typically yields the best results,” explains Snow.

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