Helping Children Cope with a Grandparent’s Dementia
Loved ones with dementia slowly lose the ability to learn, function, and remember. The condition can have a profound impact on the entire family, including young children. However, there are ways you can help your child cope with a grandparent’s dementia.
Teach Your Child About Dementia
While family members become sad and upset about a loved one’s dementia, your child may be feeling scared about all the changes that are happening that impact his or her life. If your child is old enough to notice dementia symptoms, you will want to describe the basics of what is happening in words he or she understands.
First, tell your child that the brain is an organ in the body that is in charge of all functions. It is like a control center. Describe dementia as a condition that affects the way the brain works.
You can compare the brain to a bookshelf with books of early memories at the bottom and newer ones at the top. Books of memories, skills, and facts are constantly being added. Dementia is like a storm that knocks the books off of the shelves and the books on the top shelf are the first to fall. It can be hard to restock the shelves with these books.
Encourage your child to continue to ask you questions about dementia. Although your child may be upset by this news, it is vital that he or she know that the behaviors are part of the condition and not aimed at them. You may also want to purchase a children’s book on the topic to help your child cope. There are many choices available for all age groups.
Involve Your Child in Care
Your child may be feeling left out and lonely from all the attention the grandparent needs to receive. Therefore, be sure to involve your child in the grandparent’s care during visits.
Setting limits and boundaries before the visit will help reassure your child. For example:
- Set a time period for the visit and schedule them regularly.
- Tell your child that if the grandparent becomes upset, they will leave and come back another time.
- Discuss what the child may notice the grandparent doing during the visit. This will reduce unexpected reactions to changes in behavior.
- Inform your child that dementia cannot be spread from person to person. Your child will not catch dementia from visiting the grandparent.
Although the grandparent has dementia, he or she may still be able to enjoy activities with a grandchild. Here are some options to suggest as choices to your child:
- Play a musical instrument
- Read a book or the newspaper
- Color pictures
- Play a board game
- Get the grandparent some water or a snack
- Hug the grandparent
After you visit the grandparent, offer to answer any questions your child may have about the time spent together.
When to Seek Help
If your child is having great difficulty coping, you may notice that he or she is:
- Having difficulty at school
- Complaining of stomach aches or headaches
- Beginning to withdraw from activities
- Arguing often, especially with the grandparent’s primary caregiver
When these signs occur, you may want to as your child’s doctor for a referral to a child therapist or support group. It is also important to notify your child’s teacher about any changes in the family so that the teacher can best support your child at school.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Public Health Agency of Canada
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Alzheimer Disease. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/kids/alzheimers.html. Updated October 2014. Accessed June 20, 2017.
Explaining dementia to children and young people. Alzheimer’s Association website. Available at: https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/info/20029/daily_living/23/explaining_dementia_to_children_and_young_people. Accessed June 20, 2017.
Kids & Teens. Alzheimer’s Association website. Available at: http://www.alz.org/living_with_alzheimers_just_for_kids_and_teens.asp. Accessed June 20, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods MD, FAAP