A bridge of understanding: Explaining dementia to young children

Dementia is often complex and challenging, not only does it affect the individual receiving the diagnosis but also their loved ones, including young children. Explaining this concept to children requires thoughtfulness, sensitivity, and age-appropriate information. By providing them with a gentle explanation, we can help young children navigate the changes and maintain a loving relationship with their grandparent. In this article, I will explore effective ways for parents to explain dementia to young children.


Start with simple concepts

When discussing dementia with young children, it's important to simplify the explanation. Begin by explaining that the brain helps people remember things, just like a library. Describe how memories are like books stored in that library. By using relatable metaphors, children can start to grasp the idea that dementia affects the brain's ability to remember.

Use age-appropriate language

Children have different developmental levels and capacities for understanding. Tailor your language to suit your child's age and comprehension. Avoid using complicated medical terms, and instead, use language they can relate to and understand. For example, for younger children, you can explain that their grandparents' brain is working differently and at times a little forgetful, similar to when they forget where they put their favourite toy.

Emphasise that it's not their fault

Children may feel responsible for their grandparent's condition or think they did something wrong. Reassure them that dementia is not caused by anything they did or didn't do. Help them understand that it's part of ageing and that the grandparent still loves them, even if they struggle with memory loss.

Encourage questions and open dialogue

Give your child the opportunity to ask questions and express their feelings. Encourage them to talk about their emotions and validate their concerns. Respond with honesty and reassurance. It's essential to create an environment where your child feels comfortable expressing their thoughts and getting the answers they need.

Explain the changes they might notice

Children may find it confusing to see their grandparent behaving differently due to dementia. Prepare them for any changes they might witness, such as forgetting things, repeating stories, or having difficulty recognising people. Explain that these changes are a part of dementia and not because their grandparent loves them any less.

Share activities that can still be enjoyed

Highlight that even though their grandparent's memory may be affected, there are still ways to have meaningful moments together. Suggest activities that focus on creating new memories, such as looking at photo albums together, playing simple games, or enjoying music. Encourage your child to engage with their grandparent in ways that bring joy and connection, even if it may require some adjustments.

Communicating with young children about dementia requires empathy, understanding, and simplicity. By providing age-appropriate explanations and reassurance, we can help children better comprehend what their grandparent is going through. Empowering children with knowledge and maintaining open lines of communication can foster empathy, strengthen family bonds, and nurture a supportive environment. This will encourage a focus on a shared journey of change and loss.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Wotton-Under-Edge, Gloucestershire, GL12
Written by Joanne Augustus
Wotton-Under-Edge, Gloucestershire, GL12

I am a BABCP and BACP accredited Cognitive Behaviour Therapist with over twenty years’ experience of working in the NHS and private sector, mental health services. I primarily work from a cognitive-behavioural/mindfulness/acceptance commitment therapy perspectives, however, I value and use a r...

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