How to Talk to Kids About Dementia

Dementia and Occupational Therapy - Home caregiver and senior adult woman

Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia can give rise to unpredictable days for both the older adult living with the disease and those who love and care for them. These ups and downs are linked to the damage the disease causes to the brain. In the early part of the day, a person with dementia may seem like they always have, especially if they’ve had a good night’s rest. By evening, however, they might struggle with agitation, anxiety and wandering. 

For adults, it’s easier to understand that their loved one’s erratic behavior is due to the disease. While they may feel sad and unsure how to help, they know it’s not because of anything they’ve said or done. For children in the family, however, the disease is sometimes confusing and even a little frightening. 

On good days, a grandparent might remember the grandchild and call them by name. Everything might seem fine. The next time the child visits their grandparent, though, things could be different. The senior may not even recognize the grandchild. The roller coaster of behaviors can leave children feeling as if they’ve done something to make their grandparent act this way. That’s why it’s important to discuss the issue early, before the disease progresses too much. 

Tips for Explaining Dementia to Children 

We have a few tips to assist you in explaining Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia to the children in your family: 

  • Talk about the disease: Start by sharing that the grandparent has an illness that makes it hard for them to remember things. Because of it, they will have good days and bad days. When they are having a tough day, the grandparent might act strange. And they may not be able to remember the people they love. Emphasize it has nothing to do with the child or anything they’ve done. 
  • Keep it simple: Don’t try to explain every nuance of the disease to kids. Depending on their age, a child or teen typically won’t understand or need that level of detail. Talk about dementia in general terms. As time passes and the senior’s disease progresses, you can continue to talk about the changes the grandparent is experiencing and struggling with. 
  • Offer reassurance: Younger members of the family might worry that the disease is contagious. While they may not communicate their fears, they might be fretting that you will catch it or that they will. Make sure the kids know the disease isn’t like the stomach bug or a cold. It’s not something that spreads from contact. 
  • Hear from their peers: Another idea is to take advantage of two videos the Alzheimer’s Association created, Kids Look at Alzheimer’s and Teens Look at Alzheimer’s. In watching these, your children will hear their peers talking about the disease. Some are even children and teens who have a loved one with Alzheimer’s. 

One final tip that might help your kids remain connected to their grandparent is to develop a list of activities the two generations can do together despite the disease. Craft projects, container gardening, listening to music, dancing, bird watching, looking through family photos, and sorting cards are a few ideas. Share the list with the kids and ask them to add any ideas they might have to it. 

Visit an ASC Memory Care Community Near You 

To learn more about American Senior Communities and their lifestyle and care options, visit ASCCare.com. 

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Disclaimer: The statements on this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. The author does not in any way guarantee or warrant the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any message and will not be held responsible for the content of any message. Always consult your personal physician for specific medical advice.

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