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Study: Love Between Grandparents and Grandchildren – A Many-Splendored Thing


According to a new study, grandchildren fight to maintain closeness with their grandparents, who have been diagnosed with dementia.

Montserrat Celdrán of Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, Spain, conducted the study of 87 girls and 51 boys from Barcelona, Spain. These grandchildren ranged in age from 14 to 21 years.

Their grandparents had been diagnosed with dementia, mainly Alzheimer’s disease, with a moderate degree of severity. The grandparents ranged in age from 67 to 97 years. Sixty five per cent lived in the community, and 35 per cent lived in a nursing home.

The study appeared in the International Journal of Aging and Human Development (Vol. 68, No. 3, 2009).

Lessons learned

In the study, the grandchildren responded to the following statements:

I would say that the fact that my grandparent has dementia has taught me . . .
What advice would you give to a person of your own age who also had a grandparent with dementia?

According to researchers, the majority of grandchildren identified something new they learned from being exposed to their grandparent’s illness. Reports focused on four themes:

1. attitude toward life
2. personal changes
3. views of aging
4. family

Attitude toward life

Many participants said their grandparent’s illness forced them to reflect on the meaning of life and how it should be lived.

One 17-year-old granddaughter wrote, “Sounds cold, but it’s not worth making an effort to have a great life since we all are going to end the same way.”

“Above all, I’ve learned that our wishes don’t always come true,” another granddaughter, 19, reported.

Some grandchildren struck a note of courage and determination.

“You need to fight tooth and nail, never throw in the towel, although you found yourself on the edge of the highest abyss,” one 15-year-old granddaughter wrote.

“We must get the most out of the time we spend with the people we love as you never know what will happen tomorrow,” another granddaughter, 18, noted.

Personal changes

Grandchildren reported changes in their personality as a consequence of their grandparents’ illness. Often, the changes had to do with behaviour.

As one granddaughter, 15, put it, “I need to be very patient because if he does something wrong it is not on purpose and, although I have to repeat things to him five times, I have to do it without it getting on my nerves.”

Views of aging

According to the study, participants’ views of aging were influenced both negatively and positively by grandparents’ illness.

“It’s the price paid for living many years,” one 21-year-old grandson noted.

One granddaughter, 21, reported, “I’ve learned to understand aging, to think that it’s not always merely a waiting room for death.”

“One can grow old in different ways,” another granddaughter, 21, wrote.


Some grandchildren stressed the importance of family relationships, “Family is there for the good and the bad,” one granddaughter, 21, explained.

“I think now I value more my grandmother and all she has done for me. So now is my turn to help her in everyway I can,” one 15-year-old granddaughter wrote.

Tips for coping with grandparent’s dementia

According to researchers, 134 grandchildren offered coping tips. Chiefly, they advised other young people to accept their grandparents’ illness and to visit them regularly.

Accept illness

“You should remember your grandparents as they were. Engrave on your memory the best days with this grandparent. A grandparent that loves you,” advised a 19-year-old granddaughter.

“If you feel sad after seeing your grandparent, the best thing you can do is to talk to someone in your family or to someone that has had a similar experience and can understand how you feel,” added an 18-year-old granddaughter.

Make regular visits

“It’s important to visit him regularly. Although seeing him in such a situation hurts, you will make him happy, even if he isn’t aware of anything,” observed a granddaughter, 18.

“Help him as much as you can, but without being obsessed by it too much,” advised a grandson, 14.

“Don’t treat him as an ill person, try to make him feel better, make him laugh and talk to him in a positive way and with happiness,” suggested a granddaughter, 20.”