Dear Donna:

My wife of 55 years was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease several years ago. In the early days, her symptoms weren’t very noticeable and we didn’t have to explain the problem to our grandchildren.

As the disease has progressed, however, it’s obvious there is something wrong. Despite being young, the kids definitely see changes. I think sometimes my wife’s behavior even hurts their feelings.

My son and his wife think the time has come to explain the disease to the grandkids. We are struggling to figure out how to do that. Do you have any suggestions?


Tim in Midland, MI

5 Tips for Explaining Alzheimer’s to Younger Children

Dear Tim:

By its very nature, Alzheimer’s can be difficult for younger people to understand. It’s common for families to have trouble figuring out how to explain the disease.

Fortunately, we have a few tips for tackling this conversation that other families have found useful:

  1. Alzheimer’s is a disease: Start by explaining that their grandma has an illness that makes it hard for her to remember things. She has good days and bad days. On bad days, grandma may act a little strangely and possibly not even remember their names.
  2. They’ve done nothing wrong: Take time to reassure your grandchildren that they haven’t done anything wrong. Sometimes kids think something they did caused a senior’s behavior. Explain that the changes they see in their grandma are caused by her illness.
  3. It’s not contagious: Be sure to explain that Alzheimer’s disease isn’t contagious; you can’t catch it like a cold or the flu. That might alleviate any worries your grandchildren have that someone else they love will get Alzheimer’s, too.
  4. Create an activities list: Before the talk, put together a list of activities the kids can still do with their grandmother. Include simple tasks, like filling the bird feeder, and long-term projects, such as painting a birdhouse together. Reassure the children they can continue to enjoy time with their grandma.
  5. Helpful videos to watch: The Alzheimer’s Association created several video series you can watch with your grandkids. Both are from the perspective of kids trying to help other kids. You can find Kids Look at Alzheimer’s and Teens Look at Alzheimer’s on YouTube.

I hope these tips help you feel better prepared for this conversation, Tim!

Kind regards,


Memory Care at Heritage

Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia can be difficult for families to safely manage at home. Many find a memory care program to be the best solution. With memory care communities throughout Michigan, Heritage Senior Communities are highly regarded for their commitment to quality care. We invite you to call the Heritage community nearest you to learn more!