Jul 14, 2013

Why Did Grandma Put Her Underwear in the Refrigerator?

Why Did Grandma Put Her Underwear in the Refrigerator isn’t just about Alzheimer’s. It goes far beyond that and explains how children can interact with, help and love grandparents who have the disease.

By Marie Marley
+Alzheimer's Reading Room 

Why Did Grandma Put Her Underwear in the Refrigerator: An Explanation of Alzheimer’s Disease for Children.

The first thought I had when I took this book by Max Wallack and Carolyn Given out of the wrapper was how stunning the front cover is. It’s predominantly white with bold splashes of purple and with an illustration of grandma’s underwear in the refrigerator.

This signaled to me right away that the authors are two exceptionally creative people. And that was borne out by the book’s contents.

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In just 37 pages the authors provide a wealth of information about Alzheimer’s; and,  in a language children can understand.

Why Did Grandma Put Her Underwear in the Refrigerator isn’t just a book that explains Alzheimer’s. It goes far beyond that. It also shows how children can interact with, help and love grandparents who have the disease.

Although at first glance it might appear that the book is simply telling the story of a child and her grandmother, it is written creatively and strategically to introduce and deal with many of the fears and misperceptions children in this situation can experience.

Marie Marley is the author of the uplifting, award-winning book, Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy. To learn more about Marie and to accesss her wealth of information for caregivers go to Come Back Early Today.

Published by Puzzles to Remember, Why Did Grandma Put Her Underwear in the Refrigerator features Julie, a seven-year-old girl whose grandmother came to live with her family a few years earlier. In the beginning we are shown how much Julie loves her grandmother and the fun activities they do together.

But then things start going wrong. Julie notices that Grandma is misplacing things.

At this point the authors introduce a common fear for children whose grandparents have dementia. Julie, like so many other children, thinks that maybe it’s her fault. Fortunately her mother explains that it’s because grandma has Alzheimer’s disease.

As the story continues, grandma starts putting things in unusual places. As the title infers, she actually puts her underwear in the refrigerator. Children can then see Julie as a role model. Julie simply comments, “I’ve gotten used to things being mixed up in my house.”

Wallack and Givens then introduce another common fear. Julie starts worrying that she could catch the disorder. Her mother comes to the rescue again and tells her no one can catch the disease from a person who has it.

Julie’s mother goes further and explains the difference between healthy brain cells and ones found in people with dementia. This is beautifully explained with a simple illustration children can easily understand.

The book also touches on several other facts about Alzheimer’s. We learn that sometimes grandma is fine; other times she is mixed up.  We learn how Julie reacts when her grandmother doesn’t recognize her. We see how Julie deals with the same question being repeated over and over – then she tells grandma she loves her.

Another issue is that Julie’s grandmother gets frightened easily. Julie models a way to deal with this as well.

The authors then introduce another common problem for grandchildren whose grandparent has Alzheimer’s – anger. We are shown that it is okay to feel angry.

Next, wandering is introduced. Julie’s grandma leaves the house alone one night. Her mother explains why she thinks grandma did that. Fortunately, the police find grandma. We then learn that this problem can be circumvented by putting a special bell on the door.

After that we are presented with the issue of incontinence and we also see that it is normal to be embarrassed by the public behavior of a grandparent with dementia.

The following pages describe how Julie helps her grandmother and how they interact. Then day care, medications and clinical trials are discussed – all in language children can comprehend.

Finally we see a glimmer of hope as Julie decides to become a scientist in order to try to find a cure for Alzheimer’s.

This book should be read to – or read by (in the case of older children) – all kids who have a grandparent, or even another relative, with Alzheimer’s. It is instructive without being preachy and instills knowledge without being pedantic.

The authors are to be commended on the creativity they brought to the book and the simplicity with which they impart knowledge that can help any child who struggles to understand, interact with and love a grandparent with dementia.

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