Explaining a diagnosis of dementia to teenage children can be difficult, but understanding what’s happening and how they could help can be reassuring.
‘My father’s dementia was only recently diagnosed but it’s getting worse quickly. How can we explain what’s happening to him to our teenage children?’
Getting a dementia diagnosis can be confusing and upsetting for everyone in the person’s family.
Explaining what’s happening to teenagers can be difficult, especially if they’re also dealing with other significant events like exams or their first relationship.
However, it can be reassuring for them to understand what is happening and how they could help.
Talk and acknowledge
Try speaking to your children clearly and calmly, and at the right level for them. If you can get a sense of how much detail they can cope with, you can tailor your conversation to that. For younger teens in particular, it’s worth checking that they understand any special terms that you’re using.
If your father is doing things that might seem strange to them, such as forgetting names or behaving differently, then acknowledge that this is happening.
A common concern among children is that they, or other family members, may develop dementia.
Explaining that dementia is caused when the brain is damaged by a disease, such as Alzheimer’s or strokes, may help them to understand that changes in your father’s behaviour are due to this and not directed at them.
A common concern among children is that they, or other family members, may develop dementia. They might even need reassurance that it can’t be ‘caught’ like some diseases.
Listen and reassure
Feeling listened to and heard can be the most valuable part of a conversation.
Allow your children to express their feelings without judgement. Encourage them to be open about how your father’s condition is affecting them.
Make sure your children know that you’re there for them and that you’re facing the situation together.
Teenagers might respond by expressing sadness or anger, or they could feel anxious or stressed. Alternatively, they may retreat from the situation. If they’re finding it harder to concentrate, they might have problems with school or other work.
Make sure your children know that you’re there for them and that you’re facing the situation together. It’s important that they understand they’re still loved no matter how preoccupied, sad or frustrated the adults around them may be.
Explaining dementia to children and young people
How children and young people can be affected when someone close to them has dementia, and how to help them feel secure and involved.
Again and more
You might need to repeat your explanations at different times – your children could need reminding why their grandad sometimes behaves in an unusual way, especially if something upsetting happens.
If your father is able to talk about his condition directly with your children, then he may need support, so it could be helpful if you’re there too.
There are many online resources for children to find out more about dementia and how to make a difference – see our YouTube channel.