Impaired Grandma

25 Feb

Letterbalm Grandmother and GranddaughterDear LetterBalm: My mother-in-law is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, which is coming on unusually quickly. She absolutely adores my 7-year-old daughter, who loves her grandmother to pieces. They play and squeal all day. My daughter is smart, clever and full of impish personality. I’m afraid as my mother-in-law descends further into the disease that inappropriate behavior or lack of response will confuse or, worse, frighten my daughter.  What can I do about this? I don’t want to stop my daughter from having contact with her grandmother, but I feel I need to protect her, too. How can I explain things to her?

–Protective Mommy

This is, indeed, heartbreaking, and yet another awful manifestation of this insidious disease. Doubtless your husband and his family are monitoring his mother’s condition and making sure she has appropriate treatment and care every step of the way. Your responsibility to your daughter is to make sure she’s safe in her grandmother’s company – do be low-key but monitor their interactions. Ms. L.B. wants to reassure you that children have a remarkable ability to understand difficult situations, especially if they’re given age-appropriate explanations without insulting their intelligence. Sit with her privately when she’s drawing or playing with toys and engage her casually. Remember, you want to initiate a dialogue without alarming her. Over time, be prepared to update the reality and answer her questions as they arise:

Savannah, you have so much fun with Grandma, and I love to watch the two of you together. She really is a nice person, and you and she are lucky to have each other to play with. I want to tell you something. Grandma doesn’t feel well all the time, and she might be tired and cranky when she’s playing with you. She’ll have to stop and rest. And sometimes, she just might sit quietly. Sweetie, your Daddy and I want you to know that it’s not your fault at all. Grandma might be too tired to play or talk with you. But she’s not angry with you or anything, so you mustn’t be sad. You’ll always be her special granddaughter, and she’ll always be your Grandma. If you want to talk about Grandma, you know you can always come to Daddy or me.

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