Collier Edition

Speaking to Children about Dementia

By Christina M. Freise Pollitt, MS, CCC-SLP, CBIS, CDP – Speech-Language Pathologist

Speaking to Children about DementiaCoping with your loved one’s dementia diagnosis is certainly difficult for the adults in the family, but it poses unique challenges for our younger family members. Often, many adults initially attempt to shield or protect their children from interacting with a person with dementia, but this typically is not the best approach. With approximately 5.7 million people currently living with dementia in the United States, (a statistic set to triple by 2050 as per the Alzheimer’s Association), this is a highly pertinent issue for all families to consider.

Many children do worry that dementia is a disease that is “contagious” as they have been inclined to associate the term ‘sick’ with ‘contagious.’ Thus, it is imperative to have an honest conversation, tailored to the children’s age level, about changes seen in their loved one (often a grandparent or great grandparent). For example, you may say, “When you are sick, you get a cold or a cough, but sometimes when grandparents are sick, it changes how their brains work. Grandma’s brain is changing. She can remember how much she loves us, but she has trouble remembering names for things now.” Also, many children are inclined to think that if one is sick, then one will “get better” or link medication to improvement in health status. While upsetting, it is important to address that there is no medicine or remedy that is a cure for dementia.

If your loved one is residing in a facility, and the facility permits children during visiting hours, please bring them. You may not only provide joy to your loved one, but to other residents as well. Please just ensure that you do not leave your child unsupervised with your loved one or another resident, as behavior patterns in dementia can rapidly fluctuate. While another resident may appear to be calm and friendly, these traits may be superficial and transient.

It is also advised to openly state how you feel about this diagnosis. Please be open and tell your child that you are frustrated, confused, saddened, for example, as it will encourage in the open sharing of feelings.

It may be helpful to work on a family tree activity, or a family scrapbooking task to promote awareness of the family as a whole. If your child enjoys arts and crafts, he or she may find pleasure in drawing pictures or cards for your loved one. Furthermore, there are some commercially available picture books written on the topic that you may find beneficial in sharing with your child:

Grandma’s Box of Memories:
Helping Grandma to Remember by Jean Demetris

When My Grammy Forgets, I Remember by Toby Harberkorn

Grandpa Seashells by Jo Johnson

Always My Grandpa by Linda Scacco

If your child is exhibiting severe difficulties in coping with the dementia diagnosis, please consider speaking with your child’s pediatrician. He or she may refer you to a child psychologist or social worker for an evaluation to determine if therapy is warranted.

Christina Freise Pollitt is a speech-language pathologist, and owner of Speech By the Beach Consulting LLC, a family owned and operated private practice in Naples, Florida. She provides comprehensive speech-language pathology services to both pediatrics and adults. She is certified as a Brain Injury Specialist by the Brain Injury Association of America, and as a Certified Dementia Specialist by the National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners. This triple certification distinguishes her from other speech-language pathologists, and enables her to offer patients more comprehensive assessment and treatment options.

Mrs. Freise Pollitt holds a Masters of Science from Columbia University, New York, the only Ivy League training program in the United States in Speech-Language Pathology. Following graduation, she fulfilled her Clinical Fellowship at The Brady Institute for Traumatic Brain Injury to receive her Certificate of Clinical
Competence from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Her diverse experiences include Level I acute care Trauma Center, LTACH, home care, and university clinical faculty member with supervisory and teaching roles in a pediatric clinic. As a clinical professor, Mrs. Freise Pollitt has trained hundreds of aspiring speech-language pathologists. Furthermore, she is the author of Cognitive Implications of Dementia: A Caregiver’s Guide to Improve Communication and Swallow Function.

Mrs. Freise Pollitt is the former vice president of Closet2Closet, an Illinois-based non-profit organization providing current trend apparel to teenagers living in foster care and/or disruptive situations. Locally, she is the former President of the Collier County Medical Society Alliance, and a former Director of the Florida Medical Association Alliance. She is an advisor to the Stroke Recovery Foundation and to the Alzheimer’s Support Network of Naples.

In regards to pediatrics, Mrs. Freise Pollitt offers a myriad of services at Speech By The Beach Consulting LLC. She offers comprehensive evaluation and treatment of articulation/phonology, receptive and expressive language, voice, feeding/swallowing, reading skills, cognitive communication, and social language. Mrs. Freise Pollitt is specialized in evidenced-based methods including Food Chaining, the Orton Gillingham Reading Approach, Baby Signs, and the Beckman Oral Motor Approach. Speech By The Beach Consulting also offers telepractice as an option in these current times.

Speech By The Beach Consulting LLC is accepting new clients. Please call 239-631-1988 to schedule your appointment.

Speech By The Beach Consulting LLC
2180 Immokalee Road, Suite 312
Naples, FL 34110

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