Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Let the Little Ones Come...

Mom and our oldest grandson, Daniel, when he was 2. 
When they are in a comfortable environment with people who have become familiar to them, small children may exhibit wonderful empathy for an elderly person with dementia.  I love the photo above of my mother with our oldest grandson back when he was just two years old.  Daniel was a laid-back toddler and usually happy to oblige loved ones who wanted to cuddle.  I love the expression on his face here; he looks kindly indulgent.  One of his little hands rests on Mom's wrist, the other mimics her pointing at a feature in the book, and he is gamely looking at the story detail she is pointing out to him. He is, in short, ministering to my mom, who had invited him to sit on her lap.

Daniel's little brother, Logan, who is now exactly the age Daniel is in the photo above, spent time with Mom yesterday afternoon.  I'd brought him out to bake cookies with Grammy (me), but as soon as he arrived he announced, "I'm goin' in to see Roof. (My mom's name is Anna Ruth, and the kids are instructed to call her "Grandma Ruth," but "Roof" is Logan's abbreviated form of her name.)

No one had asked Logan to visit Mom, but as toddlers, both my grandsons have been delightfully uninhibited by any need to distance themselves from disease-related behaviors.  It isn't that they don't notice dementia symptoms, but more that small children are governed by a compassion that spurs them to find a way to communicate.  Logan strutted into Mom's apartment, and when she didn't look up he said loudly, "HI ROOF!"  Mom responded with delight.

Now, Logan is very different from his brother, and does not give hugs unless 1) they are his idea and 2) the hug-recipient is his mother or father.  But he has a precious empathy for his great grandmother nonetheless, and he surveyed her appraisingly, hands on his hips. After a few moments of thought, he attempted to entertain her with some dance steps, but Mom soon lost interest.  And so he ran to his toy cupboard and said, "I need a game that Gamma Roof an' me can play togevver."

I was at a loss; Mom isn't very interactive, and Logan wasn't going to sit side-by-side with her in the chair with a book as Daniel once had done.  As I hemmed and hawed, Logan decided to take matters into his own hands. Turns out that in his mind, a good game was one in which Logan displayed talent and Grandma Ruth's attention did not waver.

He chose a box of magnets and metal connectors and sat down with them at the foot of Mom's chair.  "Look at 'dis, Roof!" he said...and he proceeded to create amazing sculptures and then hold them up for her to admire.  Whenever her attention seemed to fade he would stand up, say her name, and redirect her to attentiveness; it reminded me very much of how I used to speak to a class of first graders when their attention wandered.  The amazing thing about Logan's interaction with Mom is that although he had to work hard to keep her engaged, he managed to do so for nearly 30 minutes.  I'm astounded that two months short of his third birthday, Logan had the fortitude to sustain a social-type interaction with her for a longer period of time than her Alzheimer's has allowed since--well, since the last time Logan visited.

Sometimes, parents may feel they are protecting their little ones by preventing them from contact with elderly relatives, but young children are uninhibited by fear of of dementia-related behaviors. Of course the interactions must be closely monitored, and you wouldn't expose a child to angry or violent behaviors. But when the child is given a measure of control over the situation and the dementia patient responds with smiles, the results can be heartwarming.


  1. What special grands you have and how wonderful that God has given them the means to continue to interact with their great-grandmother. They must delight her heart.

    1. Thank you, Vee! I want you to know I giggled at length over your "Absalom moment" in the forsythia thicket. Love your blog.

  2. Vee very touching. My daughters Father in-law suffered with Alazhimers for 5 years and his 7 grandchildren were always at his side. They are now in their 20's.

    The adult family also gave some space for the Grandma to get out to do things for herself. her hair done or nails done. It is wonderful to let the family,grandchildren be part of their Grandparents continued life. He loved music so four of the children are musical and sing and have made a record and he has know they sing . So he was very pleased. He since has passed on but good memories are left in that home .By all.

    1. Seven grandchildren! Your daughter's father-in-law was so blessed! Thank you for sharing this uplifting family story.