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  • Writer's pictureDr. Domenico Pratico

Should we talk about Alzheimer’s disease with children?~ Domenico Pratico, MD, FCPP

Should we talk about Alzheimer’s disease with children? ~ Domenico Pratico, MD, FCPP

Having an honest and open conversation about Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias with children is a very important and timely topic since more and more grandparents of young children may manifest signs of cognitive decline and memory impairments during regular interactions with them.


There is no doubt that a situation like this is very difficult for both the individual affected, the children and the entire family. It is rather spontaneous and almost normal a tendency of the adults when facing this moment to avoid it, not talk about it and possible to hide the condition to “protect” the children from “unnecessary” stress and other psychological disturbances that the topic may generate in them. However, I think that despite these risks the general rule should be not to hide the truth to the young ones. In fact, it is important that they actually understand the reasons behind the “strange” behavior or the changes in memory and forgetfulness that the elderly loved one have been manifesting in recent weeks or months.


Some adults may adopt to explain what’s going on with grandad or grandmom using very generic justifications like “there is nothing wrong, he/she is just old, this is part of getting old”, and “he or she is moody because is old”. Although this approach may be seen as protective for the children, it can easily increase the sense of anxiety and stress in them who may think that if this is the case so their own parents will the manifest the same when they get older!


It is always a good idea to tell the truth about the medical condition and provide as much as possible appropriate basic information on it, such as that the disease is not the result of an infection, is not contagious and does not necessarily happen to all the people when they get old. We should not hide that currently there is no cure for it and that with time all the symptoms could get worse. However, at the same time we need to reassure them that as a family we can help the loved ones with dementia by being closer to them and not isolating them, involving them in various activities, and interacting with them without fear but only love, empathy and compassion.


If necessary, and importantly depending on the age of the child, we could also use tools that help for a better understanding and acceptance of the disease. For instance, there are plenty of resources that can be used, such as printed materials or online materials which are provided for free by local, national, or international organizations that specifically deal with the disease (i., e., Alzheimer’s Association, Dementia groups). For the younger children, there are also publications with lots of images and examples of situations like the one that the grandparent is experiencing.


In conclusion, let’s not hide the truth and be open with children about the condition that is affecting memory and behavior of an older member of the family without fear that this disclosure could create stress and discomfort in them. Knowledge means empowerment and this can only generate positive effects and reactions towards the affected individuals even in children.

Domenico Praticò, MD, holds the position of the Scott Richards North Star Charitable Foundation Chair for Alzheimer’s Research and serves as a Professor and the Director at the Alzheimer’s Center at Temple, as well as a Professor of Pharmacology at Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University.

For more information on the research conducted by Dr. Domenico Pratico, please visit this link.

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Stay updated with the work happening at Dr. Domenico Pratico's lab by visiting the Pratico Lab website. 


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