How to Talk About Dementia With Children

Words to Use When Explaining Dementia to Children of All Ages

Want to help destigmatize Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia? Be frank when talking about dementia to children. Kids can be scared by what they don't know. If nobody explains why Grandma doesn't remember their name or why Uncle Jack does silly things like throw good food in the trash, children are apt to blame themselves or want to avoid these once-beloved figures in their lives. Better to be straightforward.

For younger children, you can say:

  • "Grandma's memory is broken."

  • "Our heads have a tape recorder in them to help us remember, but Uncle Jack's tape recorder doesn't work anymore."

  • "Nobody can be good at everything, and Grandpa isn't good at remembering things."

For older children and young teens, you can say:

  • "Uncle Jack has a disease called Alzheimer's that changes his brain and causes him to forget things and get mixed up, but he's still the same person inside."

  • "Alzheimer's isn't the kind of disease that you can catch. But it makes your personality change, so when you see strange behaviors, that's the disease doing it, not Grandma -- don't take it personally."


over 3 years ago, said...

The very simple language used with the younger children. I would not of thoought of it by myself. Thanks, Ruthe


about 4 years ago, said...

i would just change or omit the "tape recorder" reference ... young people don't know what that is anymore! but it gives some ideas that can be used. thanks for these tips.


about 4 years ago, said...

Try reading, "What's Happening to Grandpa?" by Maria Shriver. It does an excellent job of covering this topic with children. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/133749.What_s_Happening_to_Grandpa_


over 4 years ago, said...

I have a 6 year old grandson and he is aware that his great grandmother's memory is "broken". He notices the repetitious moments and the fact that she sometimes doesn't know who he is when he visits. He has accepted the explanation of a broken memory and is very kind to her explaining yet again who he is.


almost 5 years ago, said...

Yes,, I have young grandchildren who don't understand why their grammy doesn't act the way she used to


about 5 years ago, said...

Knowing what to say to great-grandchildren who visit and see granny looking strange at them will be most valuable. Children are smart and know that something is different but they can't understand it and become afraid to hug or come close.


about 5 years ago, said...

I have grandchildren and the tip regarding the broken memory is simple and will be useful.


over 5 years ago, said...

I wouldn't add a thing! And, especially appreciated the comment to young teens not to take Grandma's behavior personally. All of us would do well to remember this bit of advice.


over 5 years ago, said...

I don't think telling a young child that somebody's memory is broken, or giving them the idea that there is a tape recorder in our heads helps them. Later they have to unlearn those things. Even young children can understand about illnesses if you explain in a simpler way. You can just tell them that when people get older they sometimes start to forget words or how to do things. That is what has happened to your Grandpa. But we still love him.