A diagnosis of dementia can be difficult on the whole family. It may take some time to understand what changes are happening, and why. This can be especially difficult for younger children. It is natural to want to shelter children from what is happening, but it is more important to explain what is going on, so that they can maintain a relationship with their loved one. Children are intelligent and will often experience similar stress and anxiety as adults. When they notice changes in behaviour, for example, Granny forgetting their name, it could feel hurtful if they lack the knowledge of why. It may seem easier to say ‘Granny is getting old, this is what happens’ however, it is important to teach children that Dementia is in fact not a normal part of ageing.
Here are some tips on supporting children when a loved one is living with Dementia.
- Be honest & answer questions. The level of information you share should depend on your child’s age and level of understanding. However, you shouldn’t make it a taboo topic, always try to answer any questions they have clearly and truthfully.. As they age, it may become useful to explain what is going on in the brain to cause these changes.
- Listen & reassure. Like adults, children will worry about their loved one, they may also worry about others developing Dementia, or developing Dementia themselves. At this point you can reassure your child that Dementia is not a normal part of ageing. Additionally, your child may experience feelings of anger, confusion, and worry, it is important to acknowledge these feelings, and talk them through.
Use resources. There are many videos, and story books available to share with children of all ages. Learning together, as new challenges arise will be beneficial to both children and adults. A variety of books can be found here Dementia books for children – Dementia UK
- Allow your child to spend time with their loved one. Making new memories and knowing that there are good times amongst the difficult times is important, looking and talking about old photographs, listening to music and taking part in things their loved one used to enjoy is a good start. However, in instances where the loved one with dementia is unable to safely supervise, or may begin to behave inappropriately around the child, it may be best to only allow visits when you or another trusting adult is present.
Here is a helpful video from Dementia UK: https://youtu.be/lJdLf7gQWJs
Article by Abigail Davies