Talking to Children about Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's disease in loved ones affects the entire family, including your children. Find tips on how to talk to your children about Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in the UK. One in 14 people over the age of 65 are thought to be affected and the prevalence of Alzheimer’s for people over the age of 80 rises to 1 in 6. Experts believe that these numbers could double in the next 20 years. Although most people are diagnosed after age 65, a growing number experience early onset Alzheimer's disease, which is typically seen in people as young as 50.

With these statistics, chances are high that Alzheimer's disease will touch your family in some way. You might feel sadness and worry over the changes you see in a beloved parent. If you're part of the ‘sandwich generation’ and a primary caregiver, you might experience financial, emotional, and physical stress as you attend to your loved ones needs. Alzheimer's disease affects the whole family, including children.

 

How to Talk to Children about Alzheimer's

As parents, we often wonder how to help our children understand the effects of Alzheimer's disease on their grandparents or close family members when diagnosed. Although every family is unique, you'll probably need to address the question of Alzheimer's directly and honestly. Work as a family to develop a plan for caring for your loved one. Doing so not only reduces stress, but creates an environment in which our children can learn empathy, teamwork, and compassion. Below are a few ideas for how to talk to children about Alzheimer's disease:

  • When it comes to talking to kids about serious illnesses of family members, talk with them sooner rather than later. Even very young children intuitively pick up on stress or changes in family dynamics that can come as a result of a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Children are also prone to making misinterpretations, and may assume the situation is much worse than it really is.
  • Consider your child's age and developmental level. A young child might have trouble comprehending the abstract concept of cognitive decline. Additionally, young children might not have a well-formed memory of how a loved one behaved before. Young children are likely to have fewer expectations about how a family member should or shouldn't behave.
  • Offer simple, direct explanations about the effects of Alzheimer's disease. Be positive and don't over dramatise. For example, you might say something like, "Grandma has something called Alzheimer's disease. This means that she can’t remember things as well as she used to. We’re going to take care of her and we’re going to take care of you too."
  • Listen as much as you talk. If your child is older, ask them what they know about Alzheimer's disease and if they’ve noticed anything different about your loved one. Listen and base your conversation on your child's needs.
  • Read children's books about Alzheimer's disease. Well-written books can help young children understand abstract concepts, examples include: Still My Grandma by Veronique Van Den Abeele and Always My Grandpa by Linda Scacco.
  • Allow your child to express feelings of sadness, anger, or fear. At the same time, as loved ones and grandparent's roles in a child's life changes due to Alzheimer's, make sure to point out the special things your child can still do with them. For example, maybe Grandma can’t play board games the way she once did, but she might love to listen to music or watch your child play instead.

A diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease brings challenges and changes for families, but it doesn't have to be catastrophic. Open and honest communication can help you navigate this difficult time successfully.

Further Resources:

Alzheimer’s Society: Explaining dementia to children and young people

Alzheimer’s Association: A Parent’s Guide – Helping Children and Teens Understand Alzheimer’s Disease