Conversations with Dementia: What to Tell Your Kids

A dementia diagnosis can hit pretty hard. Between the misconceptions of what can happen next and the normal fear that comes with hearing that a loved one has a chronic and irreversible disease, emotions are going to be difficult to manage, especially if you decide to care for your loved one in your home. This already difficult task can be more difficult if you have children. No matter the age, children are going to have a hard time understanding and dealing with a life changing event like this. In this blog, we will talk about the conversation you will have with your children about a dementia diagnosis.

Don’t Hide the Truth

Something to realize before you go into a conversation with a child about a large concept like dementia is that, no matter how old they are, they understand far more than you probably realize. Even a 5 or 6-year-old has a concept of some of the bigger things that are happening. They are empathic and can feel the stress in a house just like any of us can. The difference often is that they don’t have the context or awareness to be able to process these feelings and events. This should be part of your goal when talking to your child about this type of diagnosis.

If you start from a place where you assume that your child is capable of understanding more than you would think, then one of the first things to do is to tell them exactly what is going on with your loved one. Don’t be afraid to give them as much information as you can about what is happening. They will undoubtedly have questions, even some that you don’t have the answer to give. Be honest. Let them know when you don’t know. They will understand this better than you might think.

Expectations at Home

If you plan to have your loved one move in and take responsibility for their care, this is another part of the conversation that you should be ready to have with your child. Just like in other conversations with your family, this is a chance to set expectations for what is going to be happening in your home. This change will be hard on children of any age. There will be differences in how much attention a child will get, what they will be able to do, and how they are going to be handling hard days. Talking to them can give you a chance to help them understand these changes and give you something to refer to when difficulties inevitably arise.

Also, consider talking to your child about different responsibilities that they could tend to as your family takes care of your loved one. Adapting the level of responsibility to the child is important. You want to give them responsibilities you know they can handle in order to instill more positive outcomes and opportunities for praising their behavior. Children want to be helpful to their parents and giving them responsibilities and letting them be a part of the care in your home can be an invaluable experience for them. Talk to them about how they would like to help.

For younger children, give them smaller tasks like helping put away groceries, keeping their loved one company in the living room, bringing them something that they need, or waking them up in the morning. Older children can be given more adult responsibilities in the home such as cooking or doing more care-oriented activities such as getting your loved one into bed at night.

Growth Opportunity

While this is going to be difficult for your child(ren), look at this as an opportunity for them to learn more about the world. They will get the chance to be helpful and create space for themselves in the family dynamic. Moments like this can bring loved ones closer together, and that includes the youngest in the room. Take the time to have real and honest conversations with your children about what is going on and help them understand the expectations of what is to come.