How to support children and young people when a person has dementia

Children and young people need reassurance when somebody has a diagnosis of dementia. They want to know that you are there for them and that you are all in this situation together.  

Reassuring children and young people when a person close to them is living with dementia will help them feel that you understand the difficulties they face. They need to know that they are still loved however preoccupied, sad or frustrated the adults around them may be at times.

Involving children and young people is a big part of helping them feel included. It can make the situation seem more normal for them.

Tips for supporting children and young people when a person has dementia

The following tips are a good starting point for supporting a child or young person when someone close to them has dementia.

Reassuring them

Let the child know that their feelings are normal and that they can speak to you about them without being judged. With the right support, people can live well with dementia. Children and young people can be part of this support.

Learning together

When children and young people learn about dementia, they feel more comfortable talking about it.

Help them learn more about dementia using dementia organisation websites aimed specifically at children, such as Dementia In My Family

Children and young people often learn by example. Communicate with the person with dementia in a way that you want children and young people to communicate with them.

They can learn more about dementia at school, college, university, or work by becoming a Dementia Friend. See 'Tips for involving children and young people' below for more information. 

Talking therapy

Talking therapies can be helpful. Speaking to an independent professional might help the child or young person explore their feelings without worrying that they may be upsetting a member of their family.

Our dementia advisers are here for you.

Let them know that they can speak anonymously to someone on a helpline – such as our Dementia Connect support line or Childline. Online discussion forums might also be helpful for teenagers.

Expressing themselves

Try to help the child express themselves in a way that works best for them. This might be through arts therapies like painting, music or drama.

Suggest that they explain their relative’s changes to their friends, which will help their friends to understand too.

Making new memories

Take photographs of the child or young person together with the person with dementia, to remind you all that there can be good times.

Support at school or university

Letting the child’s school know what is happening can help so that they are aware of the situation and understand the types of difficulties the child may be facing.

The school should also keep you informed of any changes they have noticed, and they may be able to arrange counselling or other support too. 

Children at school and young people at university may also be able to get extra support or adjustments around their exams.

How to involve children and young people in a person's care

If possible, try to find ways of involving the child or young person in the person’s care – if they are interested in helping. They may find that there are aspects of caring that they find fulfilling and which help them feel more included. This may also help the person with dementia. 

Here are some ideas to help.

Spending time together is enough

Let the child or young person know that, if it’s possible, simply being with the person with dementia and showing them love and affection is one of the most important things they can do.

Have fun

Try to make sure that the time they spend with the person is pleasurable. Activities could include going for a walk together, playing games, sorting objects, listening to music or making a scrapbook of past events.

Talk about life, together

Talk about the person’s life and interests and show the child or young person photographs and mementos.

Reassure each other

At any stage of the condition, the person can still hug the child or hold their hand, if that feels right. These can all be good ways of reducing fear, reassuring the child, and maintaining a positive relationship.

It is a good idea to be aware of things that the person with dementia may find upsetting or confusing. Be prepared to provide reassurance if these happen when a child or young person is present. Talk to the child afterwards if the person does become upset or confused, to help them understand why this happened.

Appreciate them

Make sure that the child or young person knows that you appreciate their help. Show them how they are helping the person with dementia.

Involve them in Alzheimer's Society

Children and young people can fundraise for us or simply join in with an event, such as a Memory Walk or bake sale.

By supporting Alzheimer’s Society, they can make a difference for all people affected by dementia. It can give them the opportunity to talk about dementia with their friends in a relaxed and positive way.

Dementia Friends information sessions can also be held at their school or college.

These sessions give their friends and peers an opportunity to learn more about dementia, and how to make their community more dementia-friendly. 

When not to involve children and young people in dementia care

Sometimes, you may feel it is better not to involve a child or young person in the person with dementia's care. You should still explain what dementia is, and how this is changing their relationship. 

There might also be times you think it would not be best for the child or young person to be left alone with the person with dementia, for instance if they begin to show aggressive or sexual behaviour. Try to explain the reasons for this. Make sure the child knows that this is a symptom of the person’s condition, rather than how the person with dementia feels towards them.

Young children may need reminding why the person with dementia sometimes behaves in an unusual way. All children and young people may need to talk about their feelings at different times when their relationship with the person with dementia changes.