Dementia is a tough reality to face, especially for members of the family who are caring for a senior with dementia living at home. Helping our children to understand what dementia means and what their grandparents are going through can prepare them for what’s ahead.

Talk to your child

Explaining what dementia is to the younger ones may take some time. Some simple ways to put its symptoms into words that children can understand are,

“Grandma/grandpa cannot remember things well anymore”

“Grandma/grandpa needs more time to understand us”

“Grandma/grandma will repeat/say the same thing many times”

Your children may still have questions after you explain these symptoms and that’s alright. Be patient with them and answer these questions to the best of your ability. This might also be a good opportunity to do some research together and read resources that can help you cope with your parent or parent-in-law’s condition.

Prepare your child

When grandma or grandpa exhibits symptoms of dementia, your child may not know how to respond appropriately. Prepare them for such situations so that feelings of fear and confusion can be avoided.

Assure your little one that it is completely alright that grandma or grandpa is behaving as they are, and it is part of their condition. Teach them how to respond calmly when the symptoms are getting too much to handle. For example, if your child feels irritated when grandma or grandpa is repeating themselves too much, teach them to walk away and count to ten to calm down. Let them know that these symptoms are part of an illness and that grandma or grandpa cannot help themselves when they forget something or repeat themselves too much.

This is also a good time to inform them about the signs of emergencies such as stroke or a heart attack, and how to differentiate them from typical signs of dementia that are now part of a new normal.

Show your child

Demonstrate how to behave around a grandparent with dementia by being a good example. Practise patience and graciousness in your responses when you handle your parent or parent-in-law so that your child can learn from your actions. Don’t forget that your child is always watching and will model your behaviour!

It isn’t an easy journey coping with a senior with dementia and a child in the same home. Seek help from support communities and healthcare professionals whenever you need it.