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Cedarhurst psychologist writes 'Please Explain Alzheimer's disease to Me'

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Alzheimer’s disease hits close to home for many, especially for grandchildren, which is why Dr. Laurie Zelinger, a Cedarhurst board certified child psychologist, decided to write “Please Explain ‘Alzheimer’s Disease’ to Me,” a book explaining Alzheimer’s disease, a common form of dementia, to children.

Written for 6- to 9-year-olds, Zelinger’s book is one of several, including “Please Explain ‘Terrorism’ to Me” and “Please Explain ‘Anxiety’ to Me,” that she’s written to explain difficult topics to children.

“I've always liked to write,” she said. “I've been writing since I was in elementary school, so writing is something I enjoy and I like to be able to break down difficult concepts for kids.”

The book details a story of two children, named Seth and Shepard after Zelinger’s grandchildren, noticing changes in their grandmother’s behavior as she becomes more forgetful and needs more help in her day-to-day life. 

Casey O’Brien Martin, a school adjustment counselor, found the book to be a great resource to offer parents who come to her for help explaining a grandparent’s Alzheimer’s to their children.

“I feel like I have a go-to book on that,” Martin said. “So many times with kids, if they see their difficult experiences in a book it’s just so validating for them. I love that it talks about the changes and all the changes for the kid that are kind of hard to adjust to ... it made it really simple for a child to understand.”

Dr. Deborah Lief-Deinstag, a Lawrence pediatrician who often refers patients to Zelinger, finds that it’s important to explain difficult situations to children to reduce their anxiety and fear.

“The more explaining we do, the less anxiety we engender in our children,” Deinstag said. “There’s a common misconception that if you don’t talk about something, it goes away or it’s less worrisome or it's less scary for a child. On the contrary it’s more worrisome and more frightening because they don't quite know what they’re expecting and what they’re experiencing.”

The second half of the book features information for parents including facts about Alzheimer’s, tips for dealing with loved ones with the disease, and a question and answer section on how to address a child’s questions.

Zelinger stressed that parental teaching is important to help a child’s understanding and development. “I want parents also to get information,” she said. “I want them to better understand the disease and know how to address the child's questions at the child's developmental level so that the child gains understanding and is satisfied with the answers that they get.”

She said she was inspired to write this book from her personal experience in dealing with family members with Alzheimer’s. “I’ve had it in mind for a long time, because both my mother and my grandmother had dementia, so I lived with this firsthand,” Zelinger said. “Now that the baby boomers are aging, the rate of dementia and Alzheimer's is climbing.”

In her book, Zelinger quotes her father who recently died from Covid-19. “I remember reading him the drafts of this book and his words really stuck in my mind,” she said. “He said, ‘Please tell anybody who reads the book that the people who have Alzheimer’s want to be remembered as they were, not as they are now.’ That just stuck with me.”

For more information on Dr. Laurie Zelinger, go to  www.drzelinger.com.