Explaining Dementia to Young Children

Written by Active Minds on Wednesday the 12th of June 2019.


Finding out you are or a loved one is living with dementia can be a difficult time and telling people can be overwhelming and emotional. As such, explaining dementia to the younger generations in your family can often be overlooked or sometimes considered inappropriate, but is of great importance that they understand what is happening.

For younger children it is important that they understand how and why their loved one is changing, and even though this is a complex subject there are many different ways to educate younger people and help them through. Encouraging questions is vital for building their understanding and even though it is natural as adults to protect children from difficult situations, discussing dementia will help to build reassurance and comfort.

Benefits of Explaining Dementia to Young Children

Children may be reluctant to engage with older family members living with dementia; this is usually because they don’t understand the changes they are going through. By explaining dementia in a calm and reassuring manner, it can give younger children the opportunity to ask questions and gain understanding. Children are inquisitive and often the more they know, the better they will feel.

It is common for children to be confused or worried about their loved one who is living with dementia, but when they have more information they should feel more comfortable with the situation. Children are perceptive and can usually sense change or tension; they may begin to think they’ve done something wrong, so it is important they understand it is not their fault.


When to Explain Dementia to Young Children

Once changes in mood, personality or memory begin to become obvious, it may be a good time to inform children. It is important they are told as soon as possible that it is not their fault so that they can understand why these changes are happening. The sooner children are told, is usually the better. It gives them more time to understand and makes it easier to digest.


How to Explain Dementia to Young Children

When you decide the time is appropriate to begin explaining about dementia, it is important that you approach the subject in a calm and informative way. Children are inquisitive and are aware of tension or difficult atmospheres so it may be worth choosing a location which is familiar and relaxing.

Be as honest as possible when explaining the situation, but still bear in mind that you are speaking to a child, so language and certain details may need to be more subtle. It is important to allow them to ask questions and speak openly about their feelings throughout the conversation.

Remember to try not to confuse or worry them with the intricate details but rather start with simple facts and encourage them to ask questions.

For help with explaining dementia to younger children, there are many different resources online such as this one from the Alzheimer’s Society.