When a loved one receives a dementia diagnosis, it can be an overwhelming time for the rest of the family. It can be especially confusing for a child to experience a family member acting differently without understanding or knowing why.

Even though the conversation may be difficult, it is important to talk to children about dementia. By doing so, you are helping them process what is happening to their loved one and understand that even though things may be changing, the love between their family member and them will always be there.

As  memory care provider in Tennessee, our team at The Pavilion Senior Living is well-versed in helping families navigate dementia and the dementia care journey. This is why we are sharing four tips on explaining and talking about dementia with a child.

1. Be Honest

Holding back the truth – or worse, lying – to a child about what is going on with their loved one will only make the situation more difficult. Children are incredibly intuitive, so even though they may not understand what is happening, they likely recognize that things are different before you talk to them. This is especially true if a family member is already experiencing dementia symptoms and uncharacteristic behaviors related to the diagnosis.

While you may feel that you are protecting children by not involving them, it is best to be honest and create a space where children feel safe to talk about these complex topics.

2. Explain the Diagnosis

When you have the conversation, it is important to explain the dementia diagnosis and its symptoms in a way that they can understand, depending on a child’s age.

Instead, use examples where your child may have noticed these symptoms emerge. For instance, their grandparent called them by their parent’s name or asked them the same question repeatedly in one conversation.

In addition, for younger children, books are available to help them further understand dementia. For example, My Grandma Has Dementia by Alex Winstanley is aimed at 4-11-year olds to help start the conversation and alleviate anxieties children may experience. The Alzheimer’s Association also has a resource focused on talking to children and teens about Alzheimer’s disease. 

Explain that dementia is progressive and unpredictable and, over time, their loved one’s symptoms and behaviors may change. Encourage them to ask their own questions and keep the door open for honest communication.

3. Allow Them to Feel Their Own Emotions

When a member of the family receives a dementia diagnosis, it is an emotional time for everyone. Talking about these feelings is healthy, but it is also important to allow children to feel and express their own emotions. 

Do not assume that they are feeling the same as you. Share your emotions with them when talking about dementia, as this could help them feel more comfortable expressing themselves. However, give them the space to share with you how they feel about everything that is going on around them. Let them know that whatever they feel is okay and that there are no right or wrong emotions.

4. Keep Children & Their Family Member Connected

This tip is beneficial for children and a person living with dementia. Creating a list of activities for a child to do with their loved one will help them stay connected, as well as keep a person living with dementia engaged and active.

Some ideas could include:

  • Looking at family photo albums 
  • Doing various crafts together
  • Puzzles and other games
  • Playing music
  • Watching a favorite movie

It is important that children understand that just because their loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, it does not mean that their relationship and the love between them will fade. Keeping the lines of communication open and continuing to be honest with children as dementia progresses is the best way to help everyone cope with what is happening.

Managing dementia starts with getting the proper care and support. We invite you to visit our website or contact a member of our team to learn more about the memory care options at The Pavilion Senior Living in Tennessee.

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