How to Explain Dementia to a Child

Poet’s Walk knows how difficult it can be to deal with a loved one’s dementia and how daunting it may be to explain a grandparent’s dementia to a child. To help the members of our assisted living communities continue leading as normal a life as possible, Poet’s Walk is pleased to offer guidance in approaching the conversation with a child. After all, we’re more than just a memory care provider—we strive to keep families connected!

Tips for Explaining Dementia to a Child

Many consider hiding grandma’s or grandpa’s condition from a child, fearing they simply won’t comprehend what they are being told or that it will upset them too much. Though difficult, the conversation can help relieve some of the stress that the child may be displaying (or, that they may be hiding). As you begin to talk with your child about dementia, keep these tips in the back of your mind:

  1. Understand how the child is interpreting the events.
    It is important to remember that a child is a child. Grandpa’s agitation may come off as anger or the fact that grandma forgets their name may lead them to believe she doesn’t care for them. On the contrary, let them know grandma’s or grandpa’s behavior has nothing to do with them. Put yourself in their place and understand where they are coming from. Be sure to ask them questions about how they are feeling and let them know that you are always available to answer any questions.
  2. Explain it in a way the child will understand.
    Most children simply won’t be able to comprehend big medical terminology. At the same time, phrases such as “disease” can be scary and may lead children to believe that anybody going near grandpa can “catch” dementia. Keep things simple—perhaps tell them that grandma is having trouble with her memory and that this can happen as people get older, similar to a senior having to walk with a cane. Remind them that this isn’t something like a contagious cough and there is no need to fear it spreading to other loved ones.
  3. Show the child how interactions can still be fun.
    Remind the child of all the fun they had, and can still have, with grandma or grandpa. They can still go to baseball games together, they can still bake cookies together, and they can still go out for pizza. Encourage them to help out their grandparent and let them know that it can actually help them to feel confident and loved.
  4. Keep Your Cool
    It can be easy to become upset as a loved one’s dementia progresses. Try to keep the stress away from the child and interact with your elder loved one as normally as possible. Kids often take cues from their parents and seeing you continue to enjoy grandma or grandpa’s parents can help them feel immediately more at ease. Encourage them to visit grandma or grandpa at the memory care facility in which they may reside, but don’t force them if they feel uncomfortable.

A Family-Like Approach to Memory Care Services

In addition to providing tailored memory care services, Poet’s Walk is dedicated to keeping families connected. We frequently hold ongoing family activities and special events that are designed for seniors and their grandchildren. Reminding children that they are still part of a family that loves each other can do wonders when it comes to coping with changes a grandparent may be going through.

Looking for more tips on how to talk to a child about dementia? We invite you to contact our team of memory caregivers for more information.