Alzheimer's disease and dementia can be mind-boggling and confusing to kids. Their grandparents, great-grandparents or family friend may act "weird" and yet look normal. How do you explain what's happening to children?
A 17-year-old college student recently emailed me about a children's book on Alzheimer's he has coauthored. Why Did Grandma Put Her Underwear in the Refrigerator? is based on Max Wallack's experience with his great-grandmother ("Great Grams"). She lived with his family from the time he was 6 until her death four years later.
Wallack wrote it because he felt other books on the market were mostly "dark. I wanted to write something that was not depressing but rather hopeful." So it wouldn't be dark, he and his collaborator, Carolyn Given, a former middle-school English teacher, added humor (just look at the title).
"Children need to understand that the person they loved is still there, that Alzheimer's disease is not contagious and nothing they did is causing the problems," says Wallack.
"Kids need a simplified, understandable visual image of what Alzheimer's disease does to the brain," he says, "and coping skills on how to respond to repetition, food problems and other things they may encounter." Wallack took first crack at drawing the illustrations and then he and his friends created them together.
Wallack has sure done his homework. While he's studying at Boston University, he works at the school's Alzheimer's Disease Center and in the Laboratory of Molecular Psychiatry in Aging. He's also coauthored a paper for the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease and travels to scientific conferences.
Not impressed yet? After his great-grandmother's death, Wallack launched Puzzles to Remember, a nonprofit that donates 12-36 piece puzzles to hospitals and care centers. He and Givens are donating 50% of their book's proceeds to Alzheimer's research and patient care.
Other books for children also tackle the topic of Alzheimer's and dementia. Among the standouts are:
- The Memory Box by Mary Bahr
- Still My Grandma by Veronique Van Den Abeele
- Pop by Gordon Korman
- Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip by Jordan Sonnenblick
- Singing with Momma Lou by Linda Jacobs Altman
- What's Happening to Grandpa? by Maria Shriver
- Remember Me? Alzheimer's Through the Eyes of a Child by Sue Glass
- What's Wrong With Grandma? A Family's Experience With Alzheimer's by Margaret Shawver
Also of Interest
- The Doctor Will (Really) See You Now: An Alzheimer's Program
- Yummy News! Cocoa May Help Keep Brain Healthy
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