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Dementia: Helping Little Ones Understand

Dementia is something that we may all be affected by at some point in our life. Whether we develop the condition or someone we know does it has become an undeniable and common part of society. Celebrities who were diagnosed include Robin Williams and Terry Pratchett while numerous films have been made reflecting the horrors of the condition. But how do you explain dementia to children?

Unfortunately, the people who are most likely to develop dementia are the elderly. You might have a parent, aunt or uncle in their seventies or eighties. These are the people most at risk of developing the condition, and it is a difficult thing to describe to a child. Ultimately, dementia will involve someone losing a part of themselves and slowly becoming somewhat unrecognisable to those around them.

How you explain the condition will, of course, depend on the age of your child. Older children will be able to understand the complex condition far more easily compared to little ones. However, this won’t make it any easier for them when they need to come to terms with it.

Memory Trouble

Arguably the most common signs of dementia is issues with memory. This does tend to get worse over time and may eventually result in them forgetting who you are or who your children are. Mistaking the grandchild for their child is also quite common for reasons that we will discuss a little further down. However, simply explaining that your mother or father is getting a little forgetful may be enough to help kids understand.

However, do be aware that when patients with dementia have episodes, they can get frightened when someone breaks their delusion. As such, you should always be with your child if they are around someone who is suffering from the later stages of dementia.

No Longer At Home

Many patients with dementia ultimately have to get expert dementia care. This might involve them moving out of their home and into a care facility. It’s easy to explain this to children by simply treating it like a house move and a care home similar to a hotel. There’s no need to get into the complex details of this type of change if you can make it easier for children to understand by keeping things simple for them.


Dementia patients are often not aware of where they are or even when they are. The past can become clearer for patients with dementia and may even become their reality. As such, it’s important that you are aware of the issues here and that you explain it to children in a way that they can understand. Perhaps explaining that their grandparent is revisiting their own past and childhood might be the best way to help them understand this.

Ultimately dementia is a horrific disease, and even adult offspring of parents with the condition have a hard time coping it. Explaining it to young children is a matter of taking away the frightening aspects while helping them to understand the core aspects of the condition.