People with Dementia are Not Children

Vicky Pitner   -  

People living with dementia are adults struggling to make sense of their world and should never be compared to children. Because of the damage to the brain, the person begins to experience things differently, and often the person is described as being “childish.”

The perceptions we have of a person effects the way we treat them, and if a person living with dementia is thought to be a child, they are treated as a child. This will diminish their self-worth, personhood, dignity, and lowers the expectations of the person.

Yes, some behaviors such as mood swings, irritability, arguing, impulsive behaviors and their inability to regulate their emotions may seem childlike, but persons with dementia are not reverting back to childhood. The person’s brain has just lost the momentous gains made throughout their life. While a child’s brain is developing, a person with dementia’s brain is dying.

Many adult children who support a parent with dementia become very frustrated because of the changes in the parent. They feel they are parenting their parent and report feelings of irritability most of the time, will regret things they say, experience highs and lows throughout the day, and have difficultly regulating their emotion because they find themselves constantly arguing with their parent. Supporting a parent with dementia can be difficult, but I sometimes wonder if perhaps it is the adult child who is really the one acting more childlike.

These behaviors are understandable because the adult child feels the parent is no longer emotionally available to them and must process the feelings of abandonment, but the reality is, the adult children have a choice in how they choose to experience these feelings, whereas the parent with dementia no longer has a choice.

If you would like more information on our Memory Ministry, family trainings or Memory Café please contact Vicky Pitner, Memory Ministry Coordinator,