Alzheimer’s can have a big impact on every member of the family, including children. Each child will react differently to someone who has the disease.
The young people in your life might have questions about what is happening. It’s important to answer these questions openly and honestly. It will also help to share with them the changes the disease might bring, now and in the future.
Feelings and reactions
The degree to which children and teens are affected by the disease depends on who has it — a parent or grandparent, relative or friend. Other factors include how close the child or teen is to the person and where the person lives (in the same home, assisted living or nursing home, out-of-state, etc.).
Children and teens may feel:
- Sad about changes in a loved one’s personality and behavior
- Curious about how people get the disease
- Confused or afraid about why the person behaves differently
- Worried that the disease is contagious and that they will get it
- Worried that their parents might develop the disease
- Angry and frustrated by the need to repeat activities or questions
- Guilty for getting angry or being short-tempered with the person
- Jealous and resentful because of the increased amount of time and attention that is given to the person with Alzheimer’s
- Embarrassed to have friends or other visitors to the house
- Unsure how to behave around the person
Resources for Kids
Help the young people in your family get more information about Alzheimer's, especially for them.
Children and teens may exhibit their emotions in ways you may not easily recognize. They may:
- Withdraw from or lose patience with the person with dementia
- Express physical pain, such as a stomachache or headache
- Perform poorly in school
- Spend more time away from home
- Stop inviting friends to the house
- Argue more with others, especially those providing care for the person with Alzheimer’s
Ways to help children and teens cope
- Offer comfort and support
- Provide opportunities for them to express their feelings, such as keeping a journal
- Let them know their feelings are normal
- Educate them about the disease and encourage them to ask questions
- Respond honestly to questions
Activities that can be done as a family
- Go for a walk
- Do household chores together, such as folding laundry, raking leaves or washing dishes
- Listen to music, dance or sing
- Look at old photographs
- Read a favorite book or newspaper
- Create a scrapbook or photo album about the person
- Make a family tree
- Watch a movie
- Keep a journal together
Encourage your child to ask questions. Answer honestly and in a way that is easy to understand, using terms that match his or her level of understanding. If you don’t have the answers, the Alzheimer’s Association can help. We can also provide suggestions for how your family can work through changes brought on by the disease. Below are some possible answers to questions your child may ask:
Q: What is Alzheimer’s disease?
A: Alzheimer’s is not just memory loss; it’s a disease that affects how the brain works and how a person thinks. Over time, it also changes the way a person’s body functions.
Q: Will my mom get Alzheimer’s, too? Will I?
A: Most people who develop Alzheimer’s are older. Many scientists believe that there’s a greater chance of getting the disease if someone in your family has it, but not everyone who’s related will get it.
Q: Why does my grandpa call me by my dad’s name?
A: Changes deep inside your grandfather’s brain may make it difficult for him to remember things like your name. This is not your fault or his. You may remind him of your dad at your age. It’s best to not correct him, as that could upset or frustrate him.
Q: Will my grandma die from Alzheimer’s?
A: We don’t know for sure what your grandma will die from — it could be Alzheimer’s disease or another serious health condition.
Q: Why does my aunt keep asking the same question?
A: People with Alzheimer’s often remember events that happened years ago, but forget things that happened yesterday or even a few minutes ago. Your aunt may not remember that she already asked a question. It’s important to be patient and respond, even if you’ve already done so.
Q: How can I help my grandpa?
A: Simply being there for your grandfather can show you care. Even when he reaches the point where communication is difficult, love and kindness can be felt in the moment.
Q: Will my uncle get better?
A: Your uncle will have both good and bad days. Even though there is no cure yet, scientists are working really hard to find them.
Q: Will I get Alzheimer’s if I spend time with my aunt?
A: Alzheimer’s is not contagious. You can’t catch it from other people like you can the flu or chickenpox. It’s a degenerative disease, which means it develops in the brain over time.
Q: What are some things we can do together?
A: Simple activities like listening to music, setting the table, reading a book and looking at photographs are great ways to spend time with the person with Alzheimer’s.
Q: Will my grandma forget me?
A: As your grandmother’s brain changes, she may forget many things, but she will still be able to feel your love.
We can help.
You can get the information and support you need from the Alzheimer's Association®.
Call our 24/7 Helpline: 800.272.3900.
Videos for parents and teachers
Take a look at the videos below to learn about how parents and people with Alzheimer's disease discuss the disease with children and teens.
After a Diagnosis of Alzheimer's: Gee's Story
Gee’s father has Alzheimer’s disease. Watch Gee talk about helping her children cope with her father’s disease.
After a Diagnosis of Alzheimer's: Libby's Story
Libby has Alzheimer’s disease. See her talk about sharing the diagnosis with her grandson.
Kids & Teens Web section
Adolescence is challenging. And the disease may bring even more changes to your child or teen’s life. For example, you may need to ask him or her to pitch in more around the house or to assist with caregiving.
Create opportunities for your child to express feelings and make sure your child is getting enough support. Set aside a regular time to be together. Activities or outings can create great opportunities for a child to open up. If your child expresses feelings of helplessness, work together to find a way to get involved in the care process.