Explaining dementia to children and young people

When a close family member or friend develops dementia, children and young people need support. You may need to help them understand what dementia is, and what a diagnosis means for their relationship.

When a close family member or friend develops dementia, it is likely that every member of the family will be trying to cope with their own feelings.

Children and young people also need time to adjust to the news. It can be particularly hard for them, and they may need some help and support to talk about and understand dementia.

Explaining dementia to children and young people can also feel challenging for the adults and carers who support them. It can be hard to know how much you should tell them about dementia, or how best to explain things.

Talking to children and young people about dementia

Finding out that someone close to you has dementia is difficult for everyone. We all need time to adjust and come to terms with our feelings.

Children and young people are no different. However, it can be harder for them, as they may not properly understand what dementia is, or they might find it harder to cope with their feelings.

They might also be coping with things in their life they find difficult, or changes such as moving classes at school, puberty, exams, or university.

Should I tell a child or young person that their relative or friend has dementia?

It is natural to want to protect children and young people from difficult or confusing situations. However, they are often aware of unusual atmospheres or tensions, even when they haven’t been told the facts.

There might also be existing issues, problems or difficult relationships within families, which can be made worse by dementia.

Who should tell children about a dementia diagnosis?

Dementia affects everyone individually. Depending on how they are affected by their condition, the person with dementia may be able to talk about this directly with the child or young person. The person may still need support in talking to the child or young person, and it might be helpful if you are there when the conversation takes place.

When should we tell children about dementia?

It can be reassuring for children and young people to understand what the problem is. If they are not told the truth about what is happening sooner, they may find it difficult to trust what someone close to them says later on. It may also be more upsetting for the child or young person to find out about a diagnosis later, than to cope with the reality of what is happening now.

Seeing how people around them cope with difficult situations can also help children and young people learn valuable skills about dealing with tough and distressing situations. This can help them to better manage painful emotions.

What should we tell children about dementia?

Offering clear explanations and plenty of reassurance that people can live well with dementia can help children and young people to adjust and manage their feelings. By explaining why the person is behaving differently, you will help them to understand the situation.

Children and young people may even find it a relief to know that the person’s behaviour is part of their dementia.

See How to talk about dementia with children and young people for more tips.

Need help explaining dementia?

If you need more information on dementia to be able to explain things, see our page What is Dementia?

What is dementia?
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