Dementia is a troubling, and often misunderstood, condition. While many people believe dementia is a disease, the Alzheimer’s Association defines dementia as “a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life.” Given the confusion among adults about exactly what dementia is, it’s probably not surprising that children need to be informed about the condition and its effects on their senior loved ones.
As with any conversation between an adult and child, it’s critical to use age-appropriate language when discussing dementia. For a young child, you might be able to say something as simple as, “Grammy doesn’t remember things as well as she used to. We all need to help her remember our names, and we still need to give her lots of hugs and kisses.” Explaining dementia to an older child might involve discussions about how the brain works and changes with age and could include conversations centered on books, photos, and videos.
You’ll need to explain the changes in your senior parent’s actions. Some of the behavior you might have to address includes:
The onset and progression of a loved one’s dementia will have an impact on children in obvious and subtle ways. They could be dealing with:
As these and other feelings develop in children, provide as many opportunities as possible for them to openly express what’s on their minds – whether to you, a trusted relative or family friend, a religious leader, or a medical professional.
Communicating with children about your senior parent’s dementia is critical. Any ongoing conversation about the subject will benefit your children, your senior parent, and you.