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How to Help Your Kids Understand Alzheimer’s Disease

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Encourage your children to discuss what they’re feeling and talk frequently about what’s going on so they can understand and feel involved.

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October 28, 2011

It’s hard enough for you to witness and accept Mom or Dad’s strange behaviors brought on by Alzheimer’s disease, let alone help your children understand why the loving grandparents they once knew now act differently. But it’s important to talk to even the youngest members of the family and explain what’s happening to Grandma or Grandpa.

Kids may easily become confused, upset or scared if a family member with Alzheimer’s forgets their name, says something inappropriate or becomes angry and violent for no reason. Unpredictable or bizarre behaviors may cause children and teens to avoid spending time with their grandparents, causing both parties to miss out on an important relationship.

Here are some helpful phrases to use in explaining Alzheimer’s disease to your kids and teens:

  • “Grandma has a disease called Alzheimer’s. It causes her to forget things and act differently then she used to. But Grandma is still there inside, underneath the disease.”
  • “You can’t catch Alzheimer’s disease from being around Grandpa. His brain just doesn’t work as well as it used to.”
  • “I know what Uncle Bill said upset you, but remember that wasn’t him talking, it was his Alzheimer’s. He can’t control the way he acts anymore.”
  • “You didn’t do anything wrong. Sometimes Aunt Mary’s disease causes her to get angry or upset, but she’s not angry or upset at you.”
  • “Being around Nana might make you uncomfortable, but remember she doesn’t know that what she’s doing is weird. She’s not doing it on purpose.”
  • “When Grandad does or says something silly, we can play pretend. If he thinks we’re going somewhere, let’s pack some bags!”
  • “Grandmom may not know what’s going on, but she will always feel our kindness and love.”
  • “Even though Grammy doesn’t remember us, we can still remember her. She needs us to help her through this terrible disease.”

Your children may not just feel confused, sad or scared about the changes in their beloved grandparent’s personality and behavior, but they may also react to the amount of time you’re spending with the person with Alzheimer’s or changes that have taken place in your household to accommodate that person. Encourage your children to discuss what they’re feeling and talk frequently about what’s going on so they can understand and feel involved.

You can also encourage your kids to do a little exploring online to learn more about Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias on their own. The Just for Kids and Teens section of the Alzheimer’s Association website is a great place to start.

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. November 23, 2011 at 10:16 am | Posted by Lisa Olsen

    Please don't assume that kids only watch their grandparents with Alzheimer's. My 13 and 15 year old live in a house with a father that has the disease. It is very hard for all of us.


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