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How to Talk to Children About Memory Loss

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With as many as 5.7 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s, it’s likely the condition has affected your family. When your loved ones experience memory loss, it can be very upsetting and confusing for family members to comprehend. It’s especially confusing for young kids. A grandparent may begin to forget names or act in a way that causes alarm for children. Knowing how to talk with your children about memory loss can help ease these interactions and even encourage a supportive environment for those living with memory impairment.

Educate your children about the disease

From the outside, Grandpa or Grandma may look the same, but inside they are going through many changes. Children are very attentive. They will notice something has changed and will likely be confused. Instead of pretending that nothing is different about Grandma or Grandpa, explain to your children what is happening.

This may not be the easiest conversation; after all, you too are coming to terms with the change in your family. But it is important to be open in communication. If vague or dismissive when telling your children why Grandma doesn’t remember names, your children may sense that you are trying to avoid discussing their grandparent’s behavior. Avoidance of the topic could frighten or confuse your children even more.

Children may react a few different ways when learning about the disease. They may feel sad or they may be fearful about their grandparent’s uncharacteristic behaviors or actions. Children may also feel a sense of guilt for becoming frustrated with their loved one when they are acting differently in public places. Reassure your children that these feelings are normal. You too may share some of these feelings. Be there for your kids and assure them that they are safe and can confide in you.

Keep your child involved

As you learn preferred ways to communicate with your mom or dad, share them with your children. If you learn from your Alzheimer’s support group that loved ones living with Alzheimer’s prefer that people kneel and speak to them at their level instead of standing over them, practice this behavior with your children. Tell your kids that Grandma or Grandpa may often ask them what their name is. Although that can be upsetting, encourage your child to calmly share their name and be patient. Chances are, Grandma is upset that she recognizes her grandchild’s face, but can’t remember his or her name.

Reiterate that memory loss is not contagious

If you notice that your child is hesitant to get close to their grandparent, it is encouraged that you explain to your children that Alzheimer’s disease is not contagious. Even if he or she doesn’t voice their concern, it may put their mind at ease to know they can’t catch Alzheimer’s disease from their grandparent like the flu or a common cold. Encourage interaction and lead by example.

Treasure the moment

Remind your children of the happy moments they had with Grandma or Grandpa before the memory loss. Reminisce with them about the trips to the donut shop, holiday decorating, and the sleepovers. Having a family member with memory impairment can be an emotional experience for the whole family but finding moments to treasure can help ease the toll of caring for your loved ones.

Explain the importance of living in the moment and urge your children to give their grandparent extra hugs. Although he or she may have trouble remembering a conversation later, and they may ask the same question a few times, special moments shared will last a lifetime.

It can be heartbreaking when Grandma or Grandpa can’t remember their grandchild’s name, birthday, or favorite traditions, but their hearts haven’t changed. They will never forget the love they have for their grandchildren, even as their memory fades. When children have a way to process the disease, it can help make the moments more special and more meaningful for you, your child, and your loved one.