If you have a senior loved one who is making the move to memory care in San Diego due to an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, it might be a difficult process to explain to a young child. They may ask questions that are hard to answer, such as ‘why doesn’t grandma remember me?’ or ‘why did Auntie forget that I play soccer?’.

This transition can bring about challenges for all of the members of your family, but it can be especially confusing for children. Having a conversation with your child can help ease the transition and bring about a better sense of understanding. Depending on the age of the child and how close the relationship is to the senior can create some variations when it comes to explaining.

Keep reading to review the tips we have for helping children understand when a loved one has Alzheimer’s disease.


Tip #1: Be honest. 

Sometimes, children can surprise us with the fact that they understand more than they let on. Because of this, it is best to be honest with them while still using age-appropriate explanations. For older children, such as teens, it would work well to identify the name of the disease and offer a more in depth explanation. 

For smaller children, try explaining it the way you would a sore throat or the stomach flu. Phrasing it like ‘Grandpa’s brain is a little sick and it makes him forgetful sometimes’ should work well and be met with understanding. Also, be sure to emphasize the fact that Alzheimer’s isn’t contagious and that spending time with their senior loved one won’t make them sick as well. 


Tip #2: Encourage communication.

While it is a difficult topic to talk about, it’s important to encourage your child to ask any questions they may have or voice concerns or emotions. Depending on the severity of your senior’s Alzheimer’s disease, there may be more to navigate or explain. 

If your loved one is in the early stages of their diagnosis, offer to have them to be a part of the conversation as well. It would be especially helpful if they were encouraging toward the child, letting them know that they are loved even when grandma forgets sometimes.


Tip #3: Get ahead of the guilt.

One of the main symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease is mood swings. At any notice, your senior loved one could become forgetful and lash out. These and other dementia-related behaviors are enough to catch even caregivers and adults off guard, let alone children.

It is no secret that kids are susceptible to harsh words and can take those feelings to heart. For example, if grandma yells at a child and says unkind things that she really doesn’t mean, a child is not going to understand that at the time. If this happens, be sure to pull your child aside and take a moment to talk about the incident. Explain that the child did nothing wrong and that they aren’t at fault. On the other hand, be sure to also reiterate that grandma isn’t at fault either, it’s just the sickness in her brain making her act this way.

While your child may still be upset or teary even after this explanation, they will hopefully feel less guilt in the long run. Later that day or the next morning, check back in with them again and make sure that they are still processing the incident and reiterate that they didn’t do anything wrong and that grandma still loves them no matter what. 


Tip #4: Teach dementia care techniques.

There are times that a dementia patient might believe that they are somewhere that they actually aren’t. For example, they could believe that they are back at their family home where they lived as a child, or perhaps working in an office where they were employed for years. If this happens, make sure you explain to your child what is going on, as trying to correct your loved one could prove to be disastrous. 

If a loved one is acting in this way, encourage your child not to correct the senior. Instead, they can play along and use their imagination if they like. Regardless, be sure to drive home the fact that this is part of their loved one’s disease and the sickness in their brain. If your child is uncomfortable playing along, that’s okay! Allow them to separate and have alone time for a little while.


Tip #5: Stress the importance of respect.

One of the most important elements of caregiving is respect. This includes having respect for boundaries. However, this sort of distinction can be difficult, especially if the senior loved one has Alzheimer’s disease. 

If you are visiting your loved one at their assisted living community, and your senior has an unexpected outburst, especially one directed at your child, it is okay to leave and separate yourself from the situation. Explain to your senior that you will be back to visit them later when they are feeling better, and then once you’ve left, sit and talk with your child. Emphasize that while their loved one’s hurtful actions are unintentional, that doesn’t mean that they should be tolerated. Allow your children to set boundaries as well. 


A senior woman and her granddaughter smiling together


Tip #6: Turn to the professionals.

If your loved one lives in a facility that specializes in memory care in San Diego, there are resources and staff around that can help. For example, if you need a little more assistance in helping explain to your child about their loved one’s condition, ask a nurse or other representative to see if they would help to provide some insight for your child. 

Or you can check around for support groups in your community. After all, no one is alone and by talking and communicating with others who are going through similar situations, the better we can heal and bring about understanding. The most important thing is to start the conversation and offer support to your child.