Helping Your Grandchildren Understand a Grandparent’s Dementia

Vicky Pitner   -  

Children are resilient. They are also curious, honest, and observant, and often, family members think a grandchild won’t notice the changes in a grandparent a dementia diagnosis can bring. Trying to cover up for Grandpa’s change in behavior by responding that “Grandpa is just joking around” or blaming it on old age, experts say that without direct answers, children reach their own conclusions, which can be frightening to them. When a child is seeing one thing and being told another, the results can often cause confusion and anxiety in the child.

Understanding dementia or Alzheimer’s disease as a child or an adolescent can be difficult, but having open communication will help the child feel a sense of security and overall well-being. Below are tips on helping children understand dementia and suggestions that can teach the child patience and empathy and minimize any fears the child may have.

  • Explaining to the child that grandmother has an illness in his brain and cannot remember things, and that makes it hard for her to do some things he used to do may help the child understand.
  • Assure the child he/she cannot “catch” the illness and that they can still play with his/her grandparent.
  • Explain what is happening when the child sees something that Grandpa does or says. Grandpa may have confused words when asking for something,
  • Be truthful with age-appropriate answers and help the child find activities to continue being connected with Grandpa. Explaining to a 14-year-old grandchild why Grandpa needs someone to help him bathe or helping a 5-year-old grandchild understand why Grandpa cannot make his famous cookies anymore can be explained in terms that they can understand.
  • Be creative and develop a list of activities for them to do together so you are not caught off guard. You can intervene with a fun experience at a moment’s notice to minimize anxiety for both.
  • Activities for them to do together can include singing, reading to each other, watch animal video’s, play musical instruments together or watch the birds on the feeders while enjoying a snack.
  • Visit your library and find books that explains dementia. There are many to choose from that are appropriate for younger children, and chapter books that adolescents can learn from.
  • Most importantly, reinforce that no matter how confused Grandpa is, and that Grandpa may not even remember your name sometimes, “he always loves you very much.”

If you, a friend or family member living with memory loss would be interested in learning more about our Memory Ministry, please contact Vicky Pitner at