Finding out that someone close to you has dementia and then coping with it daily can be distressing for everyone involved. It can be particularly challenging explaining things to children and young people. It is natural to want to protect children from difficult or confusing situations, but explaining what is going on is essential. Children are often aware of difficult atmospheres and tensions even when they haven’t been told the facts, so it can be reassuring to understand what dementia is and how it affects their loved ones. Dementia care specialists advise that it is vital to be as honest as possible by offering clear explanations and plenty of reassurance. Adapt what you say and how you say it to the age and level of understanding of the child or young person.

Dementia care specialists explain dementia

Explain dementia to young children by saying: “When you’re sick, you might have a fever or a cough. Grandma’s brain is sick. She has an illness that affects how her brain works.” Using pictures of the brain, children’s books and online brochures and videos can be helpful in this situation. After explaining the sickness, explain its symptoms and what effects it currently has or could potentially have on their loved ones.

Care specialists advise that once you have explained what dementia is and its effects, children need to know that their loved one’s behaviour is not directed at them and that they should try and not take it personally. You should also closely monitor their behaviour after you speak to them. Suppose you are worried about how the situation affects a child or young person. In that case, the following signs may be worth keeping an eye out for – nightmares, difficulty sleeping, naughty behaviour, not concentrating at school, sadness or ignoring the situation.

Encourage communication

Encourage children to talk about their feelings openly; they may feel a wide range of emotions, including grief, loss, sadness, shock, embarrassment and sometimes fear. Explore ways in which the child can help the person with dementia and help them feel loved and wanted. It is essential that the child understands that this will not cure dementia, but it will help their loved one. Try to find ways to involve the child or young person in providing care for the person with dementia or spend time with the person. Visiting their grandparents may be difficult for children; usually, finding a topic to talk about is a challenge in itself. When children visit their grandparents with dementia, dementia care specialists would recommend taking something with either photos, activities or even a pet. This will help the conversation and interaction between the generations. This will help make the situation seem more usual for them and prevent them from feeling left out. However, they must continue with their everyday lives, so don’t give them too much responsibility or let these tasks take up too much time.

The milk’s in the oven is a well-written booklet about dementia for children and young people. We encourage you to utilize this for support. If you would like to chat with the Dementia care specialists at Livewell, do not hesitate to contact us.