Alzheimer’s disease is a complex topic for even adults to fully understand, especially because the disease progresses differently by individual and no two journeys are exactly the same. As a caregiver of a loved one with dementia, you may be asked by family members of those with young children, to provide guidance on how best to explain the changes happening to a grandparent, aunt or uncle, or family friend.
Fictional stories can often be helpful to introduce ideas and concepts. And, if you are looking for an exceptionally sweet story with beautiful illustrations to tell the “story” of an elderly loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, A Doll for Grandma by Paulette Bouchnig Sharkey, is among those top on our recommended list. Most appropriate for children under the age of 7, Sharkey’s short, but inclusive tale, captures the main ideas and concepts one would wish to share about the disease and its progression. It follows the relationship of a grandmother and her granddaughter, who is named Kiera, from a time before the grandmother begins showing signs of disease to the end stages of Alzheimer’s disease, when the grandmother is living in a memory care facility and has lost her ability to recognize loved ones.
What is especially empowering to young people who read (or are read to by an adult) this story, is the active role Kiera plays by initiating concern about her grandmother to her mom. Kiera says “I think there is something wrong with Grandma,” when she finds her grandmother’s keys in the refrigerator. Kiera’s mom’s explanation of Grandma’s disease is also very appropriate to the age level for this story.
It is also endearing that Kiera and her grandmother demonstrate how relationships can continue through the disease’s progression. The author provides actionable ways that young people can continue to interact and provide joy to elder loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.
Especially playful and at the same time, effective in minimizing “fear,” are the beautiful illustrations that help further tell this sweet story of a loving connection between grandmother and granddaughter. Illustrator Samantha Woo uses bright colors and age-appropriate imagery to compliment Sharkey’s endearing story.
One reviewer says this book is “full of heart.” Another calls it “a tender story about the delights of intergenerational bonds.” Sharkey’s past career as a librarian and her experience creating many articles and puzzles for children’s magazines, comes through and serves her well in her first venture as a picture book author. Perhaps this reviewer said it best: “A Doll for Grandma” is a “reassuring and gentle look at how dementia affects our loved ones.”
We absolutely loved this book and recommend it highly for any caregiver of a person with dementia, when faced with the question of how best to explain dementia to young children. It truly is a beautiful story about a very challenging topic.