How to Explain Alzheimer’s and Dementia Behavior to Young Children

by Alzheimer’s Support

What should you tell young children who interact with their adult relative who has Alzheimer’s?

Young children usually notice the odd behavor of a grandparent or family member with Alzheimer’s and wonder, silently, what is wrong. If no one offers an explanation that makes the situation all the more mysterious to the child.  The child may imagine the cause of the odd behavior as something much worse than what the truth actually is.

A simple and honest explanation of Alzheimers is always best. The family member with Dementia or Alzheimer’s has an illness. The illness causes odd behavior at times. But the family member is still a “loved” part of the family. They have no control over their illness. They are not able to stop it and sometimes can not control their strange behavior, either.

The child is usually accepting and relieved when he learns the truth. Very young children tend to blame themselves for everything, feeling it must be their fault. His main concerns until the situation is explained to him are:

1. Did he cause the illness– No, it was not his fault
2. Will he or his family get the illness– No, the illness is not “catching” like the measles

These two things of concern can be easily explained and the child’s mind will be at ease. Actually children are considerably more resilient than we might think. They are much more accepting of things beyond their control if the circumstances are explained.

Once the child is reassured of these issues, the disease of Alzheimer’s will no longer be a mystery to him, and his imagination will no longer struggle to find a reason for the strange behavior. The child can continue to play with and enjoy the presence of the family member with Alzheimer’s or Dementia with a clear understanding of the various behaviors that accompany that disease.