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Helping Young Children Understand Alzheimer’s Disease

Anyone who has a family member that lives with Alzheimer’s disease can tell you this is not a disease that affects just one person—it affects the whole family. Some of the family members who struggle the most are the young children and grandchildren of someone afflicted with Alzheimer’s. They often feel confused and scared to see someone they care about go through the changes associated with the disease process.

Explaining Alzheimer’s To Kids

At any age, children can sense stress and tension in their environment. One way to help grandchildren navigate through the stressful times is to address their questions and concerns directly with age appropriate responses. Young children and teenagers need to know this is not a disease they can “get from grandma,” but rather an illness that will bring about change in the person they love. Children will also benefit from knowing some of the changes that may occur in the future, for instance forgetting names, not recognizing faces and asking repetitive questions. Based on the child’s level of understanding, try to prepare them for the changes they’ll see in their loved one by being open and honest when explaining Alzheimer’s to kids.

Helping Kids Help Grandparents

Encourage the grandchildren or young people to participate in providing care for and interacting with their loved one. Staying involved and helping grandparents will help make the situation seem more normal, will prevent them from feeling left out and help them continue to have a relationship with the individual with Alzheimer’s disease. However, don’t give them too much responsibility or let these tasks take up too much of their time−it’s important that they continue with their normal lives.

  • Emphasize that simply being with the person and showing them love and affection is the most important thing that they can do.
  • Try to make sure the time they spend with the person is pleasurable−going for a walk together, playing games, eating a favorite snack, making a family tree or making a scrapbook of past events.
  • Talk about the person as they were before and show the child photographs and mementos.
  • Take photographs of the child and the person together, to remind everyone that there can be good times, even during the illness.
  • Don’t leave a child or young person alone in charge, even briefly, unless you are sure in your own mind that they are happy about this and will be able to cope.
  • Make sure that the child or young person knows that you appreciate their efforts and help them see how their involvement benefits the person with Alzheimer’s.
  • If you notice that your child’s health, well-being, school or social life may be impacted, please contact your health provider.

Everyone in the family can play a vital role in providing care for a person with Alzheimer’s disease, no matter how young or small. In fact, children contribute to the simplest joyous pleasures of the family.

Great resources are available to families on this topic: books and websites that specialize in age appropriate materials. A great way to locate these materials for your family is to contact your local Alzheimer’s Association (

Crystal Roberts is the National Memory Care Director at Emeritus, an Assisted Living Provider.