Aug 2019: Explaining Alzheimer’s to grandchildren

Health

Telling a child about a loved one’s diagnosis of dementia can seem daunting. Here, we take a look at how you can approach the issue sensitively – all while keeping your child involved.

When should I tell a child about the diagnosis?

Children are perceptive and they can often be aware of a difficult situation even before they know exactly what’s happening.

As the Alzheimer’s Society explains, the best approach is to be as honest as you can be, although keep in mind the child’s age or maturity.[1]

By explaining the situation as early as you feel able to, the child will have more time to process the news, and to understand what dementia can involve.

It may even be that the person themselves can explain their condition to a child, if they received an early diagnosis or if their dementia does not affect their communication in its first stages.[2] They might still need your support to do so.

Where should I start?

It could help to first write down the key points that you need to get across so that you can clearly explain the essentials when it comes to speaking to your child.

Use examples of the person’s behaviour that the child might have seen, and found strange, to introduce the idea of the disease. Explain that it is a disease of the brain,[3] and a medical problem, not the fault of the person with the diagnosis – it is not just forgetfulness.

The child may well question why the person has trouble remembering things, or even who their family members are. You can reassure them that, while this is a symptom of the disease, the person will still be able to feel the love of their family and friends even if they forget details.[4]

Sometimes, the person with the diagnosis can get frustrated with themselves, just as family and friends can also let frustration bubble over. This is normal, but it’s important to emphasise to the child that it’s best to be patient – there will be good and bad days.[5] Sometimes, it’s best not to correct the person too much if they’ve mixed up your name, for example.[6]

You could also explain all the things that the person can still do, as well as outline the things they will find harder to do as time goes on.

How can I keep them involved?

Just as communicating the diagnosis to the child is important in the early stages, it’s just as crucial to let them know that they can continue to ask questions and to tell you how they’re feeling.

One often-recommended tip for children (and, maybe, for adults too) is to keep a journal.[7] It can help them to express how they feel and chart changes in their emotions over time.

When they are with the person involved, encourage them to interact in a meaningful way as much as possible. Sometimes, talking about the person’s life and interests – perhaps in the form of making a memory book or photo album – can be rewarding for everybody.[8]

It’s also worth noting that many specialists recommend you tell your child’s teacher or school counsellor about the situation so they can monitor the child’s wellbeing at school.[9]

More resources

Sometimes, a child just wants to hear from somebody their age who is in a similar situation. This brilliant resource shows children explaining their own experiences of loved ones with Alzheimer’s: https://www.mindcare.org.uk/news/2015/02/explaining-dementia-children/

And this fantastic site tailors information about dementia to the child’s age group, from young kids through to teens: https://kids.alzheimersresearchuk.org/

We pride ourselves on our expertise and care when it comes to residents with Alzheimer’s. Our homes are designed to be a comfortable environment for those with dementia: you can find out more about that here:   https://www.baycroft.co.uk/news/apr-2019-mixing-dementia-friendly-design-with-domestic-style2.


[1] Alzheimer’s Society, ‘Explaining dementia to children and young people’, https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/daily-living/explaining-dementia-children-and-young-people

[2] Alzheimer’s Society, ‘How to help children affected by dementia’, https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/daily-living/what-you-can-do-help-children#content-start

[3] Alzheimer’s Society, ‘How to help children affected by dementia’, https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/daily-living/what-you-can-do-help-children#content-start

[4] Alzheimer’s Association, ‘Parent’s guide: helping children and teens understand Alzheimer’s disease’, https://www.alz.org/documents/national/brochure_childrenteens.pdf

[5] Alzheimer’s Association, ‘Parent’s guide: helping children and teens understand Alzheimer’s disease’, https://www.alz.org/documents/national/brochure_childrenteens.pdf

[6] Alzheimer’s Association, ‘Parent’s guide: helping children and teens understand Alzheimer’s disease’, https://www.alz.org/documents/national/brochure_childrenteens.pdf

[7] Alzheimer’s Association, ‘Parent’s guide: helping children and teens understand Alzheimer’s disease’, https://www.alz.org/documents/national/brochure_childrenteens.pdf

[8] Alzheimer’s Society, ‘How to help children affected by dementia’, https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/daily-living/what-you-can-do-help-children#content-start

[9] Alzheimer’s Association, ‘Parent’s guide: helping children and teens understand Alzheimer’s disease’, https://www.alz.org/documents/national/brochure_childrenteens.pdf