Talking to children and young adults
It is very natural to want to protect children and young people from a diagnosis of dementia.
Finding the words to explain dementia and what it means is difficult, especially if you are just coming to terms with your diagnosis.
However, it is important to try to be as honest as you can about the situation. Try to provide clear explanations and plenty of reassurance. You may want to tell your children yourself or you may want help from their other parent or grandparents / trusted loved one. Let your children know who they can talk to about dementia in addition to you, so they know the people they can go to with questions or worries.
You and your family know your children and can adapt what you say to suit their age and you can sense how much they can cope with. It is important to let them know it is ok to ask questions and share their feelings. Listen to what they have to say.
Tips for explaining to children
- Explain the situation as clearly and calmly as possible.
- Give practical examples of changes you have experienced to help you explain what you mean, examples that maybe they saw or heard.
- Focus on the things that you can still do, as well as those that are becoming more difficult.
- Be patient. You may need to repeat your explanations on different occasions, depending on the age of the child or young person.
- Once you have set out the facts, encourage the child or young person to ask questions.
- Ask how the illness makes the child or young person feel. Listen really carefully to what they have to say, and try to imagine the situation from their point of view, so that you can find out exactly what might be worrying them.
- Give the child or young person plenty of reassurance and hugs, where appropriate.
- Don’t be afraid to use humour. It often helps if you can laugh about the situation together.
- Also bear in mind that although the news may be distressing, children and young people may find it a relief to know that some of your behaviour is part of an illness, and is not directed at them.
Involving children and young people
Try to find ways to involve the child or young person in your daily life and routine. It is good to attempt to have regular uninterrupted ‘quality time’ with them, where possible. This will help make the situation seem more normal for them, and will prevent them from feeling shut out. However, don’t give them too much responsibility, or let these tasks take up too much of their time − it’s important that they continue with their normal lives.
Emphasize that simply spending quality time with you − going for a walk together, playing games, sorting objects or making a scrapbook of past events – is the most important thing that the child or young person can do..
Take photographs of the child or young person and you together, to remind you all that there can be good times, even during the illness.
Don’t leave a child or young person alone in charge, even briefly, unless you are sure in your own mind that they are happy about this and will be able to cope.
Make sure that the child or young person knows that you appreciate their efforts, and help them see how their involvement is of benefit to you.
Resources on talking to children
- Our Explaining to Children factsheet
- When Dementia is in the House: A Canadian website for children and parents
- The Alzheimer Association in America have online videos and resources.
- Young dementia and me: This blog is run by Alzheimer’s Australia NSW and is for young people who have a parent with dementia.
- Dementia Australia: a community awareness resource for children
- Dementia in my Family A Dementia Australia initiative explaining dementia to children and teenagers from preschool up to 16 years old +
- Young Dementia UK: information and resources on telling children about a diagnosis of dementia
- Alzheimer Research UK: Explains dementia to young kids, juniors and teens
- The Crystal Project – Feathers in my Brain book explaining a diagnosis of dementia to children, first of it’s kind in Ireland