Explaining Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease to Grandchildren

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By  Kristen Heller

As our parents get older, it can be increasingly difficult to manage their needs, our schedules, and our children’s understanding of what is happening to Grandmom or Granddad. It can be scary for everyone when your mother or father doesn’t recognize you for the first time, or if they slip in and out of recognition because of Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease. Unfortunately, Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease continue to be on the rise, impacting people at younger and younger ages. It’s not uncommon to hear about people developing early signs of Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease in their late 50s or early 60s. If your mother or father have been diagnosed with Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease and you have been struggling to figure out how to explain the “forgetful” disease to your children, here are some simple ways to approach explaining the conditions to the grandchildren of those affected.

Speak to them About Forgetfulness

One of the most important parts of explaining any condition to a child is to not “sugar coat” it. You don’t need to bombard them with cold, hard, facts, but you should be frank about the condition with which your mother or father currently suffer. If your mom or dad has Dementia, it’s important to tell your child that their grandparent, or grandparents, may have a hard time remembering who they are. Take the time to talk through that with your child and remind them that it is not the person’s fault. You can explain that as we get older, our brains start to change and some people forget things they used to know. Be sure to explain that it does not mean that the grandparent doesn’t love the child anymore, but that they cannot help themselves.

Talk About Wanting to Remember

Another key thing to talk about with your child is that your parents do not forget them on purpose. They want to remember them. Nobody likes to forget. When it comes to dealing with the ins and outs of Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, some people can move between “lucid” states and “unknowing” states, which can be scary for younger children who know something is wrong, but aren’t sure why Granddad can’t remember how to eat or forgot to button his shirt today, but can suddenly remember something that happened 10 years ago. The entire experience is frightening for everyone, but be sure to talk to your children about how people with Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease try hard to remember.

Saying Goodbye

As Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease take hold and become progressively worse, it can become more and more difficult for young children to be around their grandparents. Some people become violent, and others become scared of what is happening to them. As the disease continues to worsen, some people will become bedridden and unable to care for themselves. It’s important to talk to your children about what they can do to manage their feelings as they have to say goodbye to their grandparent. It’s never an easy thing, but if you approach it from a place of helping them understand that death is a part of life and that it’s important to celebrate the life that once was, rather than focus on the end, it becomes easier. In many cases, people see death as a release from the suffering, and if you believe that, then it’s important to talk to your children about that point of view as well.

Many families are impacted by Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Some families have multiple people suffering from the conditions, and many often die from the disease. While the diagnosis, management, and death of a person with Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease are hard on all family members, it can be especially hard on young children who can feel detached from the grandparents they know and love. Keep the lines of communication open and be sure to ask questions and encourage questions of your child to help them through such a difficult time.

Kristen is a passionate writer, teacher, and mother to a wonderful son. Currently volunteering at Freedom Care, a company that helps with New York’s CDPAP program. She finds great joy in being able to share her passion of writing with others. When free time presents itself, you can find her tackling her lifelong goal of learning the piano!

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