One of the more challenging aspects of the holidays can be navigating visits between grandparents with Dementia and their grandchildren. According to the BBC, the Alzheimer’s Society reports that “family visits stimulated feelings of happiness, comfort, and security in patients with Alzheimer’s [dementia]. People with Dementia also report continuing to feel happy after the visit or experience ends.” With thoughtful planning and preparation, celebrations like birthdays, anniversaries, Easter, Mother’s & Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, or Christmas, to name a few, can be wonderful opportunities to visit grandparents and make long-lasting memories with them even after their diagnosis with Dementia.
A successful visit with children requires careful planning both before and during the visit.
Before the Visit
The first step is to discuss the visit with your children using age-appropriate details. Explain the different stages of Dementia and prepare them for the changes they might see in their grandparent’s mood and/ or behavior. Alzheimer’s Society UK has a wonderful resource shared here to help you start the conversation. It’s helpful to discuss a variety of scenarios so that children feel comfortable with the visit. Remember, don’t force them to visit, or interact during the visit, let them move at their own pace!
The second step requires logistical planning. The easiest way to do this is by reaching out to the grandparent’s caregiver and discuss the following:
- Is the grandparent open to the idea of a visit with their grandchildren?
- How many visitors are welcome at one time?
- It’s helpful to know if the grandparent is open to meeting multiple people at once (limit this to fewer visitors to reduce overstimulation for the person with Dementia).
- Set a time limit for the duration of the visit.
- This is helpful for you to prepare your child, as well as for the caregiver to plan the daily routine and schedule around your visit.
- When is the best time of day to visit?
- Depending on the grandparent’s Dementia progression and daily routine, their mood and attention may fluctuate throughout the day. In some instances, mornings may work better and in others, late afternoon. It is important to respect the timing for the visit to provide the least amount of disruption.
- Discuss possible activities to do with their grandparents
- Ask the caregiver what they enjoy and try to align the activity around that.
- Prepare the grandchild for the possibility that their grandparent might not engage in the activity and that they may have to play quietly for a portion of the visit.
- Ideas include the following:
- Listen to music.
- Look at old pictures or scrapbooks together (remind children not to use language like “do you remember when” and instead focus on what they are looking at in the pictures.
- Play a simple game.
- Read a story or book together.
- In some cases, bringing a pet (where permissible) can be a welcome distraction for people with Dementia.
During the Visit
- Speak clearly and introduce yourself in case the grandparents can’t remember – this way they won’t become frustrated if they don’t remember names.
- Do not leave the child unattended for any period during the visit. It can be scary and confusing for children if they accidentally disrupt the visit, or the grandparent becomes upset.
- Attempt the planned activity but also be okay to maybe sit together in silence. Sometimes, sitting quietly can be equally enjoyable for people with Dementia.
- Encourage children to speak to their grandparents as they would normally, and in a calm manner. If the caregiver feels like it will be well-received, gentle affection like a hug is also much appreciated.
- If the child feels uncomfortable, or uncertain during the visit – accept that this is the case and either cut the visit short or allow the child to play quietly and engage on their own terms.
- Be sure to say a proper goodbye as you leave. It is much appreciated by people with Dementia and reminds your child that just because their grandparents may not be able to communicate or act as they once did, they should still treat them with affection and respect.
Remember to discuss the visit with your children after you leave. Answer any questions they may have, reassure them if they have any concerns during the visit, and help them plan for the next visit or adjust any expectations.
Visits can be unpredictable and require flexibility on your part in case they need to be rescheduled or don’t go to plan. Do not be disheartened if that is the case. Know that even if the person with Dementia is unable to express it, they do feel a sense of happiness both in the moment, and hopefully long after.
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