Books to help kids understand Alzheimer’s

If you’re struggling to explain to a child how Alzheimer’s is affecting their grandma or grandpa, you’re not alone. And there are a number of children’s books that tackle the disease.

In fact, three doctoral students at Washington University who were analyzing the way that children’s books describe the disease found 33 titles published for 4- to 12-year-olds from 1988 to 2009, as reported in The New York Times. Their findings were recently published in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias.

Erin Y. Sakai, the lead author of the study, told The New York Times. “Storybooks about a difficult disease like Alzheimer’s can be a gentle way to introduce it to young children. [Books] can also guide parents with their discussions.”

Sakai said that in general the books did a good job of portraying the cognitive aspects of the disease such as memory problems and poor judgement, but represented other elements less-so.

Areas that Sakai would have liked to have seen covered more were symptoms such as wandering, sleep disturbances and depression. She told the newspaper that she found only around a third depicted anger or irritability, and even fewer showed limitations in functioning like the inability to drive, feed oneself or walk, not to mention the diagnostic process and the fact that the disease is incurable and progressively gets worse until death — the aspects which are often the hardest for family members to deal with.

An abstract from the analysis states, “Clinical presentations are diverse among characters with AD, and no single book presents a comprehensive depiction of the cognitive, behavioral, affective, and functional symptoms of the disease. In fact, the prevalence of some symptoms in this population of storybook characters diverges substantially from epidemiological reports.”

Additionally, the paper states that books designed to familiarize children about AD should be comprehensive and accurate.

Paula Span, a columnist for The New York Times, brings up a valid counterpoint. Storybooks about the disease must also have an interesting story (to capture the attention of young children), something that’s often difficult to do when also cramming in facts about the realities of a disease.

Although the study didn’t rate any of the books — and despite the fact that Sakai declined to comment on which books among the 33 were the best at offering a comprehensive portrait of Alzheimer’s — Span and children’s book reviewer Marjorie Ingall offered their expertise on the subject at hand.

The top mentions from the article:

  1. The Memory Box
  2. Still My Grandma
  3. Pop
  4. Curveball: The Year I lost My Grip

Numerous other books on Alzheimer’s for children can be found with a quick search.

Caring for a family member suffering from Alzheimer’s is never an easy process, that’s why having the entire family — including young children — understand what the disease entails is important. Are there any books for children about Alzheimer’s that you have found particularly good? Let us know in the comments.

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