Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Children Learn About Dementia, Alzheimer's: School, Family Support (Video 3:51)

An educator who has been actively involved with introducing children to the nursing home world and dementia for many years, I have always been impressed with the sensitive ways they embrace knowledge about this disease. Too often children’s comprehension levels are underestimated by adults. When explained to them in age-appropriate ways that support them in their learning, children are generally capable of understanding many important and unusual situations.

Trips with children (elementary-middle) to nursing homes followed a great deal of preparation that was integrated into the regular curriculum. This form of teaching-learning is called service-learning. During nursing home visits, I witnessed children's enthusiasm when older adults sang with them, even when a few residents fell asleep or looked dazed. Although these words were not on the statewide school assessment test, “dementia” and “diversity” became cool words on our classroom vocabulary list. They further described the human family in which everyone is connected and respected. When I led my class to leave a nursing home one day, a woman reached for my hand and licked it a few times. It was a child who calmly reassured the class, “It’s okay. She has dementia.” My pleased mind did an aha dance.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s are topics that many adults avoid. This leaves children at a serious disadvantage in terms of being informed about them and in seeing adults modeling positive, proactive, dementia-related behaviors. By engaging children with information about these topics at school and at home, adults can impact future generations of healthcare recipients, service providers, and caregivers. Listening to young people’s concerns and encouraging them to become involved are major steps toward transformation. Family discussions can be helpful for everyone, particularly as more family members are becoming caregivers for loved ones with cognitive decline.

Children have meaningful stories to tell that can help others understand their candid and sincere perspectives. Meet Dan, a boy who shares his heartfelt story about his Nan before and after she developed dementia. He explains his confusion and distress when he didn’t know what was happening to her. Now, he has learned more about the disease and enjoys visiting her at the nursing home. Dan has adjusted to his new Nan, one of his “most important people.” Many say, “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” But it also takes a whole village to make a village whole.

Tribute to a Nun with Alzheimer’s Dementia

At the link below, you can read my tribute to a nun who positively impacted my life as a child and later died from Alzheimer’s disease.

Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

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