Explaining Dementia and Memory Care to Children

When a grandparent is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, it can be difficult for parents to explain the situation to their children. It can be difficult to know how much to explain and how to begin the conversation.

It is, however, important for parents to prepare an explanation. Without one, children might make up their own reasons for their grandparents’ change in behavior. They might begin to believe their grandparents don’t care about them or that they are cranky for no reason.

It’s important to have open discussions with children about what is going on. This doesn’t mean every little detail needs to be explained. Rather, this can be a good time to find out what your children are thinking. Ask what they’ve thought about their grandparent’s behavior. Listen carefully and respond to their concerns in the best way possible.

The conversation will go a lot more smoothly if you put some thought into the answers you might give prior to beginning the discussion. Although it helps to provide an explanation about changes in behavior, it doesn’t need to be the same explanation you’ve received. Adjust the language you use based on the age of your child. Overall, it’s preferable to keep explanations short.

You might be tempted to keep your children from seeing a grandparent who has dementia in order to shield them from the changes in behavior that come with dementia. Both children and grandparents benefit when spending time together, though. Explain to your children that Grandma or Grandpa might not recognize them, but that doesn’t mean he or she won’t be happy to have visitors.

When visiting a grandparent in a memory care facility, explain to your children the type of environment you’ll be entering and what they can expect to see there. Explain the rules they’ll need to follow in this new environment and that the facility is a shared space.

Keep in mind throughout each visit that every child is different. One might pull back, while another will show affection liberally. Don’t expect one child to act like his or her sibling, and don’t try to force anything. Allow each child to adjust in his or her own time and way.

It might help to bring along some form of entertainment for each child. That way, if you’re staying longer than they are capable of socializing with their grandparent, they won’t become frustrated or irritable.

Most importantly, remember to discuss openly with your child, to prepare yourself, and to adjust visits and explanations based on each child’s needs.