Advice by Alicia: Talking to Children About Dementia

Q. Recently, my mom received a dementia diagnosis. Since her diagnosis, I’ve been trying to learn more about what is happening so I can better understand how to support her. While this is helpful for me, I’m worried about my daughter, who is becoming even more concerned as her grandmother’s memory problems worsen.

I know that as the early stages of the disease pass us by and symptoms become more noticeable, the time is coming to talk to her about the changes my mom. What is the best way to approach this? And how much information is too much information to share?

A. Talking to children about memory loss can be a tough subject to grapple with, especially when it’s a close family member like a grandparent who has memory loss. As difficult as this time has been for you, I’m happy that you recognize how crucial it is for children to understand the basics of what’s going on with their grandparent.

When it comes to how much information is too much, it truly depends on you and your family. If your daughter is young, there may be some topics that are too heavy. If the person with dementia can communicate but isn’t comfortable talking about their diagnosis, they may not want to share just yet. Every family and situation are different, so think about what may work best for you.

Once you decide, check out some of these techniques to make the conversation easier.

Talking to Children About a Loved One’s Dementia Condition

Tailor your explanation to a child’s age range.

When explaining dementia to younger children, keep in mind they most likely won’t understand the types of dementia or all the symptoms, so it will require you to keep it simple. You may just simply share that their grandparent has a disease that affects the brain and that it may cause them to behave differently at times – such as repeating or asking questions over and over, forgetting words or names, or getting confused at times. Teenagers, on the other hand, would have the ability to process more in-depth information about the disease and have the ability to do some research on their own.

In any case, you should explain the basics of what dementia is, what is causing the changes, and what their loved one may experience. Let them ask questions and try your best to answer them honestly and compassionately. Reassure them that the disease doesn’t change the love between them.

Provide children with resources that can help them understand.

Many books can help young children get a better look into what dementia is like for their grandparent. Some of the most popular are listed here.

There are also websites that can help, like The Alzheimer’s Association, which offers a special area just for children and teens.

Explain what they can expect from their grandparent with dementia.

Although dementia affects seniors in a number of ways, sharing some of the main symptoms can help your child understand day-to-day things their grandparent may be going through and potentially what to expect in the future.

Some of the symptoms they may notice from their grandparent include:

  • The ability to remember things for only a short amount of time
  • Difficulty communicating
  • Confusion with time or place
  • Lessened ability to recognize those close to them
  • The need to reestablish a relationship consistently

Share ways that children can cope or keep their relationship with their grandparent strong.

Spending time together is one of the best ways to keep a relationship strong. Many of the activities we often enjoy with people with dementia can easily be done at home.

Try some of these fun activities that your child can do with their grandparent or spend time enjoying these with the whole family.

  • Bake or cook an old favorite recipe
  • Reminisce over old photos and videos
  • Watch old TV shows and favorite movies together
  • Sing or play a musical instrument
  • Do puzzles and play games
  • Work on crafts together

Discover the Support You Need

For more assistance talking to kids about dementia or to find support for yourself on this journey, join us for an upcoming event or virtual support group. You can also reach out to your local Senior Advisor for additional resources.

About Alicia

Alicia Seaver is the Vice President of Memory Care Operations for EPOCH Senior Living and a Certified Memory Impairment Specialist. Every month, she addresses a specific issue related to memory and memory care. If you’re interested in hearing about a particular topic, please send a note to aseaver@epochsl.com.

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