For a teen, a relative's dementia can turn a close relationship into one that's now awkward, confusing, and embarrassing. And creates feelings of guilt.
Teens and tweens benefit from learning the basics of grandma or grandpa's condition, such as "There are diseases of the brain that change memory and thinking. We should expect that [grandparent] will have repetitive questions, emotional outbursts, and may even forget our names." Reassure your teen that these behaviors are a result of the disease. They are not intentional. Also let your teen know that dementia is not contagious.
Support the relationship with activities focused on what your loved one can still do. Explain to your teen that memories of the distant past are the strongest. This is a great opportunity to learn about family history. Engaging the present also works well, especially activities using all the senses (sight, taste, smell, touch, and hearing). Calm activities are more appropriate than fast-paced stimulation. Steer clear of games involving strategy.
Music is almost always a hit. Try putting on music from your relative's teen years. Consider dancing. (Remember the twist?)
Try a walk in nature. Bring attention to the sights, sounds, and smells. Take time to pause and appreciate each sense. (In Japan it's called "forest bathing.")
Visit with animals. Go to the dog park and watch the antics. Or have your teen bring over a favorite pet. Focusing on the animal together can alleviate awkward silences.
Bring lotion and nail polish for a manicure. Your teen might really enjoy giving grandma a mani-pedi. Grandpa might like a hand massage.
Watch old movies together. Is your teen a film aficionado? Perhaps you know some favorite classics from your loved one's youth they could watch.
Interview your relative. Consider making a scrapbook or memoir so your relative can pass along family stories. Plus, it's a great gift to the family.
Share emotions. Acknowledge how sad you are to see your loved one slipping away. Also, that you are sometimes angry or frustrated by things they do. Describe what helps you cope with your feelings. Let your teen know they can be frank with you, including if they are embarrassed or uncomfortable and don't want to visit. Let them have space if they need it. No judgments. Pushing them could backfire, and your loved one will feel it.
Is your teen confused by your loved one? It can be heartbreaking to see what once was a close relationship become one that generates discomfort, embarrassment, or even rejection. As the north Texas experts in family caregiving, we at Caring With Grace have noticed that teens have a particularly difficult time understanding dementia. It requires a maturity that is often beyond their abilities. That doesn't make it easy for you, though, feeling caught in the middle. You don't have to go through this alone. Give us a call at (214) 775-9969.