Information and Support for family caregivers

Caring for the elderly: Dealing with resistance

By Mayo Clinic staff

One of the toughest challenges you can face when caring for the elderly is resistance to care. How do you help a loved one who doesn’t want help? Understand how resistance to care can develop and strategies for fostering cooperation when caring for the elderly.

What causes resistance to care?

If your loved one is in need of care, he or she is likely dealing with loss — physical loss, mental loss, the loss of independence. Accepting care may mean relinquishing privacy and adjusting to new routines. As a result, your loved one may feel frightened and vulnerable, angry that he or she needs help or guilty about the idea of becoming a burden to family and friends. In addition, your loved one may be stubborn, have mental health concerns or simply think it’s a sign of weakness to accept help. He or she might also be worried about any associated costs.

What’s the best way to approach a loved one about the need for care?

If you suspect that your loved one will be resistant to care — whether from family, other close contacts or a service — you may be hesitant to bring up the topic. To start communicating with your loved one about his or her need for care:

  • Choose a time when you and your loved one are relaxed. This will make it easier for you and your loved one to listen to each other and speak your minds.
  • Ask questions about your loved one’s preferences. This will help you provide the type of assistance your loved one wants. What type of care does your loved one want or need? Does your loved one have a preference about which family member or what type of service provides care? While you may not be able to meet all of your loved one’s wishes, it’s important to take them into consideration.
  • Enlist the help of family members. Family and friends may be able to help you persuade your loved one to accept help.
  • Don’t assume that your loved one is unable to discuss care preferences. While your loved one may be ill, he or she may still have care preferences and be able to make some decisions regarding care. If your loved one has trouble understanding you, be sure to simplify your explanations and the decisions you expect him or her to make.

Don’t give up. If your loved one doesn’t want to discuss the topic the first time you bring it up, try again later. Caring for the elderly: Dealing with resistance

What are the most effective strategies for managing resistance to care?

Getting an aging loved one to accept help can be difficult. To encourage cooperation, you might:

  • Suggest a trial run. Don’t ask your loved one to make a final decision about the kind of care he or she receives right away. A trial run will give a hesitant loved one a chance to test the waters and experience the benefits of assistance.
  • Enlist the help of a professional. Your loved one may be more willing to listen to the advice of a doctor, lawyer or care manager about the importance of receiving care.
  • Explain your needs. Consider asking your loved one to accept care to make your life a little easier. Remind your loved one that sometimes you’ll both need to compromise on certain issues.
  • Pick your battles. Focus on the big picture. Avoid fighting with your loved one about minor issues related to his or her care.
  • Explain how care may prolong independence. Accepting some assistance may help your loved one remain in his or her home for as long as possible.
  • Help your loved one cope with the loss of independence. Explain to your loved one that loss of independence isn’t a personal failing. Help your loved one to stay active, maintain relationships with caring friends and family and develop new physically appropriate interests.

Keep in mind that these strategies may not be appropriate when dealing with a loved one who has dementia.

What else can be done?

If your loved one continues to resist care and is endangering himself or herself, you may need to take steps to protect his or her health and safety. Consider consulting a lawyer about elder care issues.

Resistance to care is a challenge that many caregivers face. By keeping your loved one involved in decisions about his or her care and explaining the benefits of assistance, you may be able to help your loved one feel more comfortable about accepting help.

Many People Would Like to Know Their Risk of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease

Many People Would Like to Know Their Risk of Developing Alzheimer’s Disease

Note to users: this article must be used in its entirety, with the attribution language at the end.

Alzheimer’s disease can’t be prevented or cured, and it ranks second only to cancer among diseases that people fear. Still, a study last year found that about two-thirds of respondents would want to know if they were destined to get the disease.

Although there are no definitive tests that predict whether most people will get the disease, people sometimes want such information for legal and financial planning purposes or to help weigh the need for long-term-care insurance.

Current tests to identify the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease when no symptoms are present provide only limited information, and health insurance generally doesn’t cover them. But that’s not stopping some people from trying to learn more.

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, gradually robs people of their memory and other intellectual capabilities. Most of the 5 million people who have Alzheimer’s developed it after age 60. In these cases, the disease is likely caused by a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors. About 5 percent of Alzheimer’s patients have inherited an early-onset form that is generally linked to a mutation on one of three chromosomes.

Research suggests that the brain may show signs of Alzheimer’s decades before obvious symptoms appear. Scans can identify the presence of beta-amyloid, a protein that is often deposited in the brains of people with the disease, for example. Changes in proteins in the blood or cerebrospinal fluid may also be associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

But tests to measure these changes are available only in a research setting, and insurance typically doesn’t cover them. James Cross, head of national medical policy and operations for Aetna, says his company “does not consider blood tests or brain scans medically necessary for diagnosing or assessing Alzheimer’s disease in symptomatic or asymptomatic people because the clinical value of these remains unproven.”

Genetic testing is somewhat easier to arrange, but insurers generally won’t pay for it, either.
In addition, genetic counselors caution that long-term-care insurers may use genetic testing results when evaluating whether to issue a policy. The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act prohibits health insurers and employers from discriminating against people based on their genetic information. However, life and long-term-care insurers are not covered by the law.

“Before anyone has genetic testing, they should get life insurance and long-term-care insurance,” says Jill Goldman, a certified genetic counselor at the Taub Institute at Columbia University Medical Center.
Genetic testing for late-onset Alzheimer’s involves one gene, the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene on the 19th chromosome. The gene comes in three different forms – E2, E3 and E4. Everyone inherits one form, or allele, from each parent. Having one or two of the E4 variants can increase a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease three to 15 times.

About half of those who develop late-onset Alzheimer’s, however, don’t have any E4 alleles at all. Genetic testing in asymptomatic people therefore isn’t definitive or even all that informative, say experts. For late-onset Alzheimer’s, “the predictive value of genetic testing is low,” says Mary Sano, director of the Mount Sinai Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

But sometimes people want information, even if it’s inconclusive. Brian Moore, whose father died of Alzheimer’s at age 89, wanted to know more about his genetic risk for the disease. Moore, 48, was better equipped than most to understand the testing: A neuropathologist who co-chairs the department of pathology at Southern Illinois University’s School of Medicine, he has performed hundreds of autopsies on the brains of people who died of Alzheimer’s disease.

Moore contacted 23andMe, a company that for $299 offers a genetic analysis of a person’s risk for more than 100 diseases and conditions, including Alzheimer’s, based on the APOE gene. The company sent him a specimen kit with a container for saliva collection that he then sent to a lab for analysis. About six weeks later, he logged on to the company’s Web site and learned that he has two E3 alleles, the most common variants, which means that his Alzheimer’s risk is average, at least as it relates to the APOE gene.

“It was reassuring,” he says. “I know it’s not determinant, and environment and lifestyle also play a role. But at least I have that base covered.”

The National Society of Genetic Counselors and the American College of Medical Genetics practice guidelines recommend against direct-to-consumer APOE testing for late-onset Alzheimer’s, in part because of difficulty interpreting the results.

Ashley Gould, 23andMe’s vice president of corporate development and chief legal officer, says that if people want help understanding their results, genetic counselors are available. The service is available by phone for a fee based on the level of service.

But in the case of the APOE gene, some experts say, the information isn’t all that helpful.
“The things we know that really impact the disease are related to lifestyle,” says George Perry, dean and professor of biology at the University of Texas at San Antonio, who is the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. “Be mentally and physically active, eat a diet rich in fruit and vegetables. These reduce the risk of developing the disease by at least half.”


Reproduced by permission of Kaiser Health News (www.kaiserhealthnews.org), an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Safe Social Networking for Seniors

Safe Social Networking for Seniors

Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites, once the domain of young people, are increasingly popular with older adults. They are using social networking sites to stay connected with family and friends, and to make new friends. University of Alabama Birmingham researchers showed that going online diminishes depression. And a recent University of Arizona study even demonstrated cognitive benefits from this form of brain exercise.

The news isn’t all good. Facebook has received much negative attention because of the phenomenon of online bullying—and indeed, Yale School of Public Health researchers recently cautioned that older adults are not immune. Negative comments about seniors are common, posted by trolls or just by thoughtless younger people. Chief researcher Becca Levy, Ph.D., suggests that while Facebook forbids hate speech directed at racial and other groups, perhaps ageist comments should be added to that list! Says Levy, “Facebook has the potential to create new connections between the generations. Instead, it may have created new obstacles.”

While the thought of seniors encountering the occasional ageist comment is distressing, larger dangers may loom. You have probably heard of the Grandma Scam, where a senior receives a phone call purporting to be from a young relative who is in jail or in some other trouble, and asks that money be wired to help out. Once the money is sent, the impostor is never heard from again, and the grandparent discovers that their real grandchild is just fine. This old scam is still going strong, with many victims out thousands of dollars every year—and the crooks have now taken their act onto Facebook.

With all the publicity about keeping children safe online, it’s easy to forget that people of any age can fall prey to hackers, identity theft and fraud—and seniors who are just starting out may be less aware about the pitfalls of online social networking. So if your parent or other senior friend is new to online communication, it’s a good idea to have a conversation about security. When it comes to online safety, knowledge is power. Here are 10 key points to share with senior loved ones:

  1. Get to know the privacy settings of social networking sites where you participate. You can choose who can and can’t see your information.
  2. Don’t post information or photos that you wouldn’t want shared with the world. Even if you intend for only a select group to see a post, someone in your network might pass something along that you would rather keep private.
  3. On Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites, don’t indiscriminately “friend” anyone who asks. Verify the identity of people who want to see your information, or request to join an online community where you discuss personal matters.
  4. If you are in doubt that an e-mail or post is really from a person you know, pick up the phone and verify it. Hackers can set up a fake account or even take over the account of someone you know. And it is very easy to create a false “persona” online. Be cautious about giving out personal information or meeting in person with an acquaintance from a chat room or online community.
  5. If you receive an email or post from a friend that seems to be selling something or just doesn’t sound right, don’t feel hesitant to ask them about it; your friend’s account may have been hacked without them realizing it.
  6. Never respond to a request for money from someone claiming to be a friend or a stranger in need. Scammers can pretend to be someone you know, or may create a false identity to appeal to your sympathy.
  7. In email, online community and social networking sites, be cautious clicking on links, even from friends. If you click on a link that asks you to download a “viewer” or other software, don’t!
  8. Use a hard-to-hack password for Facebook, Twitter, email and other accounts. Don’t select your birthday, your pet’s name, or anything else that could be easily guessed. Include a combination of numbers, letters and special characters.
  9. The creators of viruses and other malware (malicious software) are constantly refining their attacks, so be sure to install anti-virus software and keep it up-to-date.
  10. Learn about some of the most common scams you might encounter. See the website at the end of this article for some good resources.

Having the talk about safe social networking

Many older adults hesitate to go online because they feel apprehensive about hackers, scammers and identity theft. How can family talk to senior loved ones about the subject without scaring them away from these new socialization tools? Remember: the goal is to empower older adults, not to scare them offline. Here are some ideas for having a productive conversation:

  • Talk about “we” rather than “you.” Anyone can fall prey to online con artists. Open the discussion with, “Here are some things I’ve learned to keep myself safe that I’d like to share with you.”
  • Remind your loved one that the same cautions he or she practices in everyday life will also be useful online. Do a bit of role playing: “What would you do if someone asked you for money? What if they told you that you’d won a contest and only needed to send a ‘fee’ to collect?”
  • Establish a no-judgment zone. Reassure your loved one that if something seems suspicious or just doesn’t feel right, it’s fine to give you a call for advice, without embarrassment.
  • Think intergenerational! Many families report that grandkids and grandparents bond over tech support, and this can include computer security. Grandparents benefit from the knowledge and experience of the younger generation, and grandkids can feel good about helping their senior loved ones.
  • Encourage your loved one to share what he or she has learned with other seniors in the community. Many older adults have volunteered with AARP and other groups to spread the word and keep the online world safe for the millions of seniors who are enjoying friendship and healthier aging in this new way.

For more information, visit On Guard Online (www.onguardonline.gov), a consumer information website jointly sponsored by the Federal Trade Commission, Homeland Security, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Internal Revenue Service and a number of other government agencies.

Copyright © AgeWise, 2013

The Wired (Older) Generation: Seniors Online

The Wired (Older) Generation: Seniors Online

If you think Facebook, chat rooms, Skype and blogging are only for young people, think again! Today, seniors are the fastest growing group to use social networking and other internet tools for expanding social connections and keeping up with family and friends.

Experts on aging have long known that isolation and loneliness are dangerous for older adults. Staying socially connected improves physical and emotional well-being, increases mental alertness, and encourages a more active lifestyle. New research studies confirm these benefits and more, pinpointing the mechanisms behind the protective properties of human interaction that promote heart health, lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, improve symptoms of depression and minimize the effects of stress.

Yet as we grow older, many of us tend to withdraw from the social events and activities we once enjoyed. Failing health and decreased energy make it harder to get out of the house. Hearing impairment can cause communication frustration and a sense of isolation. The loss of a spouse, children moving away, and retirement from work can all lead to the breakdown of long-time social connections. Can online connections help fill the gap?

Research is underway to find out how effectively online connections meet the social needs of our later years. The study results are largely positive. And one thing is already known: more and more seniors themselves value these new technologies, as evidenced by the numbers using them. An AARP study found that seniors and baby boomers are increasingly social on the Web, joining online communities in increasing numbers, the majority logging on every day. The majority of seniors say that the internet is important in maintaining social relationships.

Are Online Connections the Same?

Online connections can’t take the place of in-person visits, or a hug, or meaningful time spent in the presence of others. Yet more and more studies suggest it can be a beneficial supplement to more traditional human interaction. Online social contact can build continuity in relationships, allowing for daily interaction that was not available to seniors in previous times, when letters or long distance phone calls provided the only connection with far away loved ones. The convenience of email, social networking sites and webcam connections can help take the edge off loneliness. Online communications also have been shown to provide cognitive benefits of intellectual stimulation. These technologies can be a lifeline for those with health problems that keep them confined to home.

Here are some of the ways seniors are staying connected online:

Email

Email remains the most popular online activity for all seniors; according to the Pew report, 86 percent of older internet users communicate in that way. A survey by Evercare showed that even centenarians are using email to exchange messages and photos. There may be a steep learning curve for older adults who aren’t computer-savvy, but “senior-friendly” software and classes are available to help. In many families, members of the younger generation enjoy displaying their skills by providing tech support for grandparents.

Blogging

More and more seniors are reading the blogs of companies, pundits, healthcare organizations and ordinary people who report on their own lives or a particular topic. Some blogs are like diaries; some are professional; some are more like support groups. Many seniors are creating their own blogs, and older adults are becoming ever more active in the “blogosphere,” posting comments on the blogs of companies, individuals, news media sites and political groups.

Social networking websites

The Pew Research Center recently reported that 34% of people over 65 now use social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Many seniors keep in touch with family, neighborhood and interest groups using these free services, and make new online friends as well. They connect with the millions of businesses, government and senior service agencies and senior living communities that now use social networking sites as an important part of their communications strategy. With hundreds of millions of users worldwide, social networking sites offer a window on the world combined with opportunities for interaction.

Online communities and chat rooms

Online communities are groups of people who exchange messages on websites that offer “forums” or “bulletin boards.” Online communities (also known as “virtual communities”) allow seniors to connect with others who have a shared membership or interest, such as a hobby, favorite TV program, health condition or class reunion group. Longtime friendships have developed over the decades that these communities have existed. Some online communities also offer chat rooms, where participants can have online conversations in real time. AARP and other senior organizations sponsor online communities especially for older adults.
Internet voice and video communication

Seniors are using Skype and other such online services to read a bedtime story to grandchildren, attend a virtual senior center event, and even talk to their healthcare provider. Now that this technology has been with us for a while, studies are confirming that long-distance family connections are enhanced and sustained by frequent virtual contact. Families also report that the connection helps nurture relationships between the generations.

Foot Care; Diabetes Care – Take Good Care of Your Feet

What Makes Feet Hurt?

Most of us start life with trouble-free feet. What goes wrong? Of hundreds of known foot ailments, most can be traced to:

  • heredity
  • improper foot care
  • injury (often caused by shoes and socks or stockings that don’t fit well)
  • the effects of aging.

Women have about four times as many foot problems as men. As you might guess, high-heeled, narrow shoes are often the culprit.

Even a small problem with the feet can make walking difficult and painful. So taking care of your feet pays off in a big way.

Constant weight-bearing over the years may cause feet to spread and flatten, especially across the front part of the foot. You may find that you need a wider and longer shoe as you age. Be sure the shoe fits before you wear it!

Common Foot Problems

Corns and calluses

Corns and calluses are caused by repeated friction and pressure from shoes. If the first signs of soreness are ignored, corns and calluses rise up as nature’s way of protecting sensitive areas.

Neither calluses nor corns have roots under the skin; they are simply thick layers of dead skin cells. However, the pressure of this hard mass on sensitive nerves in the skin can be painful.

Many people develop calluses under the ball (the front part) of the foot. Your doctor can arrange padding to prevent worsening of this problem.

At the first sign of tenderness, pads placed on the skin around the calluses will help protect the area. (Pads over the callus will increase the pressure.)

Bunions

A bunion is a deformity at the big toe joint. It occurs when the big toe slants outward at an angle and becomes swollen or tender. Bunions can be inherited, or caused by wearing shoes that are too narrow in the forefoot. Sometimes bunions are a sign of developing arthritis in older people.

Athlete’s foot

Athlete’s foot is caused by a fungus. Painful itching between toes, cracked or scaly skin, small blisters and red, irritated skin patches are usually signs of athlete’s foot or other fungal or bacterial conditions.

The best way to help prevent athlete’s foot infection is to keep feet clean and dry with a daily washing. Be especially careful to dry between toes. Use a foot powder to help feet stay drier through the day.

Ingrown toenails

Ingrown toenails have corners which have been crowded by the skin. To prevent ingrown toenails, trim nails straight across with toenail clippers. Do not round off corners. The nail should be kept trimmed to protect it from pressure and irritation. After clipping, smooth nails with a file.

To ease the pain of an ingrown toenail, wear open-toed sandals and soak feet in warm water once or twice a day.

Hammertoe

Hammertoe is a hooked or claw-like deformity that affects millions. The most common forms are acquired, and shoes or stockings that cramp the toes may be a factor. Toe joints contract, and over a period of time, a bulge forms at the top of the joint. Hammertoes can affect overall balance and comfort.

Blisters

Blisters are caused by poor-fitting shoes and socks. If blisters occur, don’t pop them—you may cause infection. If a blister breaks on its own, carefully wash the area, apply antiseptic, cover with a sterile bandage during the day, and uncover at night to let the skin breathe.

Poor blood circulation

Your feet are the “outer reaches” of your circulatory system. So cold temperatures, pressure, inactivity or smoking can restrict the circulation of blood to them. The signs are persistent, unusual feelings of cold, numbness, tingling, burning or fatigue in feet and legs. Other symptoms may include discoloration, dry skin, absence of hair on feet or legs, or cramping or tightness in leg muscles when walking. Keep warm, exercise moderately, and have periodic medical exams.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis, which is usually caused by the wear and tear of the joints that comes with age, often affects the feet and inhibits movement. Proper foot care and proper padding to cushion feet are especially important for people with this condition.

Special Care for Diabetics

Diabetes can affect blood circulation. It can also lessen feeling in the feet. So diabetics are especially vulnerable to foot problems. People with diabetes should be sure to keep the feet warm, to wear non-restrictive shoes, and to always wear shoes in order to protect the feet. Checking daily for redness, cuts and cracks can prevent them from developing into more a more serious problem. If you have diabetes, see your physician about even the most simple foot problems. Avoid cutting corns or calluses and using any remedy containing salicylic acid (an ingredient listed on labels of certain corn remedies). Trim toenails carefully to avoid breaking the skin or producing an ingrown toenail.

Learn More

April is Foot Health Awareness Month. The American Podiatric Medical Association website offers consumer information on foot care (www.apma.org/learn/index.cfm).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated their recommendations for diabetic foot care (www.cdc.gov/Features/DiabetesFootHealth)

Copyright © IlluminAge AgeWise, 2013

2013 is Named the Year of Elder Abuse Prevention

2013 is Named the Year of Elder Abuse Prevention

It is not something most of us want to think about. But according to the U.S. Administration on Aging (AoA), each year an estimated 2.1 million older Americans are victims of elder abuse, neglect or exploitation. And that’s only part of the picture: Experts believe that for every case of elder abuse or neglect reported, as many as five cases go unreported.

Elder abuse takes many forms, including financial exploitation, physical abuse, neglect, and emotional abuse. The Year of Elder Abuse Prevention is an opportunity for Americans to take action to protect seniors by raising awareness about this serious issue.

The AoA suggests ten things anyone can do to help prevent elder abuse:

  1. Learn the signs of elder abuse and neglect.
  2. Call or visit elderly relatives, friends, and neighbors and ask how they are doing.
  3. Provide a respite for a caregiver by filling in for a few hours or more.
  4. Ask an older acquaintance to share his or her talents by teaching you or your children a new skill.
  5. Ask your faith leaders to discuss with their congregations elder abuse prevention and the importance of respecting older adults.
  6. Ask your bank manager to train tellers on how to detect financial exploitation of elders.
  7. Suggest that your doctor talk to his or her older patients individually about possible abuse.
  8. Contact your local adult protective services or long-term care ombudsman to learn how to support their work helping at-risk elders.
  9. Volunteer to be a friendly visitor to a nursing home resident or homebound elder in your community.
  10. Send a letter to your local paper, radio, or TV station suggesting it cover World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (June 15, 2013).

For More Information

Visit the National Center on Elder Abuse website (National Council for Aging Care) for more resources and information about preventing and raising the awareness of elder abuse. Or call 1-855-500-3537.

Caregiving in the Blended Family

Caregiving in the Blended Family

“I felt so insulted and so hurt. It was like their father had met some gal at a bar and married her the next day, and she wanted all his money. I felt they didn’t give me any credit, or any respect, appreciation or anything. It still hurts.”—Remarried wife of 12 years, caring for husband with Alzheimer’s disease, about her adult stepchildren.

Late-life remarriage complicates caring for an ailing spouse, according to a University of Michigan researcher who conducted one of the first known studies to focus on the challenges facing older remarried caregivers—a growing segment of the older U.S. population.

“Caring for an aging spouse is extremely difficult under the best of circumstances,” said researcher Carey Wexler Sherman. “When stepfamily tensions and conflicts are added to the mix, the stress can become overwhelming.”

With funding from the national Alzheimer’s Association, Sherman interviewed about 125 men and women with the goal of documenting the type, level and quality of social support received from stepchildren and other social network members, and assessing how late-life remarriage affects the experience of caregiving.

“Past research and current public policy relies heavily on the assumption that most older people who develop dementia are in long-term, intact marriages where the spouses—most often the wife—and adult children will provide most of their care,” said Sherman, a research investigator at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. “It’s not clear exactly how late-life remarriage and stepfamily relationships affect the spouse’s ability to get meaningful help in providing that care.”

Sherman explains, “Sometimes remarried partners and adult stepchildren come to consider each other ‘family,’ and sometimes they don’t. Often you hear people talk about ‘my father’s wife’ or ‘my husband’s children’—which can be a sign that a family hasn’t really blended. Ambivalent feelings among family members may carry over in all kinds of ways when a step-parent needs help providing care for an aging parent.”

An adult child of remarried parents herself, Sherman believes that her personal experience as well as her doctorate in family psychology and gerontology have helped to inform her approach to this difficult subject. “When my father needed care, I saw how challenging it can be to negotiate medical and care decisions when you are working within a stepfamily context. I was fortunate that my stepmom and I were able to become partners in that process,” she said. “But among the older remarried women I’ve interviewed, there is often a feeling that they are not accepted by their adult stepchildren. Many also report that they either get little or no help from stepchildren, or that the stepchildren challenge the decisions or choices made by the caregiver.”

In a prior study of late-life remarried caregivers, Sherman explored the financial tensions and conflicts between step-parents and adult stepchildren. In a paper in the journal Family Relations, she noted that adult stepchildren often resisted the step-parent’s financial role, even going so far as to “reclaim ownership” of family furniture, heirlooms and other objects when their biological parent and step-parent were away from home.

“Commonly, old family and financial grievances get revisited when a parent becomes ill,” Sherman said. “And the onset of dementia in the biological parent leaves the caregiving spouse and stepparent on the ‘front line’ to deal with any unresolved or contentious issues.”

Source: University of Michigan

Helping Children Understand Alzheimer’s Disease

Helping Children Understand Alzheimer’s Disease

Today over five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, and many of these people are cared for by their families. For the youngest family members, the changes in their relative can be bewildering and scary. The National Institute on Aging shares suggestions on helping children understand and cope with these changes.

When a family member has Alzheimer’s disease, it affects everyone in the family, including children and grandchildren. It’s important to talk to them about what is happening. How much and what kind of information you share depends on the child’s age and relationship to the person with Alzheimer’s.

Here are some tips to help young people understand what is happening:

  • Answer their questions simply and honestly. For example, you might tell a young child, “Grandma has an illness that makes it hard for her to remember things.
  • Help them know that their feelings of sadness and anger are normal
  • Comfort them. Tell them no one caused the disease.

Talk with children about their concerns and feelings. Some may not talk about their negative feelings, but you may see changes in how they act. Problems at school, with friends, or at home can be a sign that they are upset. A school counselor or social worker can help your child understand what is happening and learn how to cope. A teenager might find it hard to accept how the person with Alzheimer’s has changed. He or she may find the changes upsetting or embarrassing and not want to be around the person. Don’t force them to spend time with the person who has Alzheimer’s. This could make things worse. Give children information about Alzheimer’s that they can understand. The National Institute on Aging’s Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center offers online resources for children, as well as recommendations of books that you can purchase or request from your local library.

Spending time together and alone

It’s important to reassure children that they can still talk with the person with Alzheimer’s disease and help him or her enjoy activities. Doing fun things together can help both the child and the person with Alzheimer’s. Here are some things they might do:

  • Do simple arts and crafts
  • Play music or sing
  • Look through photo albums
  • Read stories out loud

If children live in the same house as someone with Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Don’t expect a young child to help take care of or “babysit” the person.
  • Make sure they have time for their own interests and needs, such as playing with friends, going to school activities, or doing homework.
  • Make sure you spend time with them, so they don’t feel that all your attention is on the person with Alzheimer’s.

Be honest about your feelings when you talk with children, but don’t overwhelm them. If the stress of living with someone who has Alzheimer’s disease becomes too great, think about placing the person with Alzheimer’s into a respite care facility. Then, both you and your kids can get a much-needed break.
For more information, visit the National Institute on Aging’s Alzheimer’s disease website at www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers, or call the Center toll-free at 1-800-438-4380.