How to Explain Dementia to a Child

Dementia brings significant changes, not just to the person diagnosed with it, but to their entire family. It can be especially confusing and challenging for younger family members who may not understand why their loved one behaves differently.

No two journeys with memory loss are the same, and the effects of dementia on grandchildren can be considerable. Explaining dementia to grandchildren in an easy way for them to grasp is crucial. It helps them to see the person they love behind the symptoms.

Grandchildren can bring joy and light into the lives of loved ones with dementia through intergenerational interaction. These moments of connection can brighten a person’s days and offer a fresh perspective on patience, empathy, and the complexity of the human brain to younger generations.

This guide aims to help loved ones navigate these conversations and ensuing visits. It’s possible to understand the effects of dementia and learn how to engage meaningfully with affected family members.

Avail Senior Living | Alzheimer's awareness event
Attending Alzheimer’s awareness events can help grandchildren understand dementia.

Understanding Dementia

When explaining dementia to a child or young person, start with a clear, simple definition.

Dementia is a general term for the significant loss of memory, language, problem-solving abilities, and other thinking skills that guide daily life.

There are several types of dementia:

  • Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia, affecting memory, language, and thought.
  • Vascular Dementia is often caused by strokes or blood flow issues, affecting the brain’s blood vessels.
  • Lewy Body Dementia is characterized by abnormal protein deposits in the brain, affecting thinking and movement.
  • Frontotemporal Dementia involves changes to the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, affecting personality, behavior, and language.

Dementia typically progresses in three stages:

  • Early Stage: The person might start forgetting things like names or where they put things. An example might be misplacing a book they just had in their hand.
  • Middle Stage: This can be compared to having more books out of place. The person may need help with daily tasks, remembering recent events, or recognizing people they know.
  • Late Stage: In this stage, the person might need full-time care. They could need help communicating, may recognize very few people, and need help with most activities.

Explaining Dementia to Grandchildren

Explaining dementia to children and young people requires patience and simplicity.

For younger children, use metaphors they can relate to, such as comparing the brain to a computer not working correctly. Tell older children that dementia is a condition that primarily affects older adults because parts of the brain are sick.

It’s natural for children to have questions and worries. They might wonder if dementia is something they can catch or if it is their fault. It’s important to reassure them that dementia is not contagious or anyone’s fault.

An Example of Explaining Dementia to Your Child

Alzheimer’s disease is one common form of dementia, particularly in older adults, and it can change how a person remembers and behaves over time. Parents can help children understand the basics of dementia compassionately and straightforwardly. That lays the groundwork for empathy and understanding as children interact with loved ones affected by the condition.

When explaining dementia to children, simplifying things helps. You could say:

  • “Think of your brain as a big, busy library. It’s filled with books–each one is a memory, a skill you’ve learned, or part of how you make sense of the world.”
  • “Imagine a storm happening inside this library. It doesn’t destroy the books but scatters them and makes finding the ones you need tricky.”
  • “That is what happens in the brain of someone with dementia. They may forget names, get mixed up easily, or act differently than they used to.”

Despite the difficult situations that may occur, children and grandparents need to spend time together. Remind your child that a person with dementia should deserve respect.

Making Visits Meaningful

Visiting a family member with dementia can be challenging. Kids might initially find it difficult, unsure of how to interact or what to expect. However, preparation and suitable activities can make these visits memorable and meaningful. Here are some steps to help make your visits more impactful.

Prepare Beforehand

Talk to your child about what to expect during the visit. Explain to them that their grandparent may not remember them or might act differently than before.

Encourage them to engage in simple, direct conversations and to be patient and understanding. Stress that deep down, the love remains unchanged.

Bring Familiar Items

Encourage your child to bring something familiar to share with their loved one, like a favorite book or a photo album. That can spark recognition and joy in the person with dementia.

Choose Simple Activities

Plan easy and enjoyable activities for your child and the family member. Ideas include:

  • Sharing favorite foods
  • Listening to music from their grandparent’s youth
  • Drawing pictures together
  • Reading a favorite story or poem

Keep Visits Positive

Encourage your child to share positive news and stories or simply talk about their day. The focus should be on creating pleasant moments together rather than on what the person with dementia can no longer remember or do.

Be Flexible

Understand that some days will be better than others. If your loved one is having a difficult day, keep the visit short and try again another time.

Encourage Physical Contact

If it’s comfortable for both, simple gestures like holding hands or a gentle hug can be very comforting to a person with dementia.

Stay Patient and Reassuring

Children and their loved ones may find it hard to communicate like they did in the past. Encourage your child to be patient and use simple, clear sentences. Remind them that their presence alone is a significant comfort.

Reflecting After Visits and Coping with Emotions

Talk about the visit afterward, focusing on the positive aspects. This reflection can help your child process their feelings and reinforce the importance of their visits. Seeing a loved one affected by dementia can evoke strong emotions for anyone. It is essential to create an open environment where they feel comfortable expressing their feelings.

Encouraging them to discuss their observations and emotions helps them process difficult situations. This support helps build emotional resilience and empathy, teaching younger family members invaluable life lessons through real-world experiences.

Families can handle these tough times by talking openly and supporting each other. Stay patient and keep showing love.

Explaining Why A Grandparent is Moving to Memory Care

Sometimes, a grandparent needs special care to help them as the dementia diagnosis progresses. Memory care is a supportive environment where they can get daily help. Here, they’ll have friends and team members who ensure they live to the best of their ability.

Help Your Children Understand Dementia with a Visit to Avail Senior Living

At Avail Senior Living, we specialize in compassionate memory care, encouraging family visits to deepen connections. We offer volunteer opportunities for older kids and family members, enriching the lives of our residents.

Contact us to learn more about fostering understanding and support for loved ones with dementia.

This website uses cookies as described in our Privacy Policy.

Skip to content