A Guide to Teaching Kids About a Grandparent's Dementia


One of the most precious gifts we have is our memories. The memories of our youth, memories of our children growing up, and memories of good times with family and friends are things that are important to all of us. But what would happen if you suddenly could not remember some of those memories? For example, forgetting your child's name, whether your spouse or parents are alive, favorite games you like to play with your grandchildren, or even where you live. These are all things that can happen to people with Dementia.

Dementia, as per the National Institute on Aging, can be described as a condition where people lose functions such as memories, reasoning, and remembering. This condition can commonly affect people aged 60 and older, and unfortunately, there is no way to prevent or cure it. Each year in the United States, more than three million people are diagnosed with this condition, and it is estimated that one in nine people over 65 have Alzheimer's Dementia.

While the condition affects the individual suffering from Dementia, it can also impact the rest of the family and friends. People who have Dementia need to be monitored regularly to ensure they are not doing anything to put them at risk. Monitoring can put a strain on family members that are caring for them. It also can affect grandchildren who no longer have the same relationship with their grandparent, and they don't know why.

Explaining Dementia in Simple, Age-Appropriate Terms

Explaining to a child that a grandparent is different from what they used to can be very difficult. From a child's standpoint, they remember grandma or grandpa as the ones that watched them while mom and dad were away, where they could go and be spoiled with food and snacks, and where they could go and play fun games. Unfortunately, Dementia can take these memories from a grandparent, and it can be upsetting to a younger child. Even teenagers can be upset by the changes in a grandparent. Explaining what Dementia is and how it is causing a shift in a grandparent can be challenging, but it is vital to do so that a child knows it is not something that they did that is causing the change.

Common Emotions or Reactions a Child May Have

Children deal with emotional issues, such as grandparents having Dementia, differently than adults. Adults can understand that when people get older, they can have a physical or mental changes. The way the more senior person interacts will not be the same as before, and adults can deal with it better than children. Children can see the changes in the grandparent and often are withdrawn socially and suffer in silence. Because of children's suffering, parents must support their children and tell them that their feelings are alright.

Encouraging Grandparent and Grandchild Interactions

Dementia may have taken away some of the memories and abilities of a grandparent, but grandchildren must maintain contact with grandparents. Regular visits to a grandparent who has Dementia may be beneficial in triggering memories in the grandparent's mind. During these encounters, it is recommended that children treat the grandparent as they would typically do. Have them tell jokes, sing a song, and draw pictures and cards for the grandparent. These interactions will help make the child comfortable with the condition and take any potential stress out of the situation.

Ways Children Can Assist in Caregiving

There are several ways that children can help with caregiving for grandparents with Dementia. Depending on the age of the children, they can range from small children dusting or straightening up the house to older children helping with cooking or shopping. These are small tasks but important in having the children help with care for a grandparent. These tasks will help re-form a bond between them. The tasks given should be ones that they can complete and should be supervised by a parent.

Activities Children Can Do with a Grandparent with Dementia

Once children understand the issues that a grandparent with Dementia faces, the child can get involved. One great way is having the child do activities with the grandparent. Activities such as playing games, doing puzzles, and reading together are suitable activities. Other ideas include: 

  • Playing Board Games
  • Reading with Grandparent
  • Play an Instrument for Grandparent
  • Sing Songs
  • Work on a Jigsaw Puzzle
  • Color Pictures
  • Flower Arranging
  • Scrapbooking
  • Arts and Crafts