Ask Joanne - How Do I Explain That Granny's Got Dementia?

12/08/2009 12:45 | Updated 22 May 2015

What's your parenting question or dilemma for Ask Joanne? Send it in for our life coach Joanne Mallon to answer at this address. Say if you'd like your name changed.

Kathy asks:

How do you explain to two small boys – aged 3 and 5 – that the reason their beloved grandma has suddenly started shouting at them and telling them to shut up is that she has dementia and will never get better?

Here's life coach Joanne's reply

Dear Kathy

Thank you for your question. It's very tough as a parent to have to deal with a grandparent who's ill. You try to handle things as best you can and minimise the upset for your children, whilst simultaneously dealing with your own sadness and grief. It's the worst type of juggling there is.

When my father had cancer, in his last few weeks he was in hospital, looking very ill and much older than his years. I decided that I wanted my three year old to remember Grandad how he'd been, and not have that replaced by a final memory of what the illness had done to him. So I did not take her to the hospital, instead she sent in little drawings and messages for him.

My son was a baby at the time and too young to know what was going on, so he did come to the hospital. He was such a smiley peach, he really lifted everyone's spirits, and one of my dad's last conscious acts was to stroke his head.

So was this the right thing to do? I don't know, it's one of those tough calls we all have to make as parents. If Granny's behaviour is upsetting the children, you may need to consider whether it's time to take a step back and preserve their memories of happy times with her.

There's some excellent advice here from The Alzheimer's Society about how to talk to children about dementia. They emphasise that children will be aware of stress in the family, and that they will be relieved to know that this behaviour is part of an illness and not directed at them.

I wish you all the best


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