January 21

Dementia and Relationships: How to Keep the Grandkids Coming Over


Is your spouse having a hard time connecting with your grandkids since she was diagnosed with dementia?

Are you worried that your kids won’t bring them around as much because Grandma is losing her memory and has the occasional outburst or meltdown? Navigating all the changes can be tough, and it’s even harder on small kids that don’t understand what’s happening.

Let us help you keep the grandkids coming over by showing you some tips and activities that can make future visits more enjoyable for everyone.

Dementia and Relationships: 8 Ways to Help Grandchildren

The first thing you need to do when your spouse has been diagnosed with dementia is to learn everything you can about the disease. Knowledge is power. The more you know, the more you can anticipate the impact it will have on your life and your relationships with other family members. 

This will help you communicate with your kids and grandkids better so you can prepare them for the changes that are coming and help them maintain their relationship with Grandma.

1. Talk to The Kids & Explain

According to alzheimers.net, kids will have an easier time processing the changes taking place in their grandparent’s behavior if they visit with them frequently. The disease progresses gradually and will be easier for them to adjust to over time.

Your kids might be tempted to leave the grandkids out of the loop when it comes to telling them their grandparent has dementia. It can seem easier to shrug things off and explain away their behavior with “Grandma is just getting older,” but kids are often much smarter and more observant than we give them credit for. 

Avoid Jealousy

Your kids might notice that you are spending more time helping Grandma with daily life instead of spending time with them. You’re helping Grandma cut up her food instead of playing a game. You help Grandma to the bathroom instead of reading them a story.

Kids can generally accept changes if they are prepared. They’ll be less anxious if they know what to expect and you can avoid feelings of jealousy.

Even young kids are likely to notice that Grandma’s memory isn’t as good anymore, and she gets irritated more easily sometimes. The best thing you can do is talk to your kids and ask them if you can discuss the changes and what to expect. 

Explain the Situation

Younger children don’t need a very detailed explanation. You can simply tell them that Grandma has a disease that affects her brain. The “bucket of memories” is a good analogy to use. You can let them know that Grandma’s mind is like a bucket that has a hole in it. The memories are slowly leaking out and she’s losing them.

Let them know what kind of changes they can expect, that it’s not contagious, and get them involved in activities that they can enjoy together. Make sure that the kids understand that Grandma needs more attention now — but that spending time helping her doesn’t mean that you love them any less.

Older kids will need a more detailed explanation of dementia and will likely have questions for you. Do some research and learn everything you can so you can answer any questions they might have. If they have questions that you can’t answer, don’t be afraid to do research together or make a list to take with you to ask the doctor at the next appointment.

Explain Behavioral Changes

Young and older children will both need to know that Grandma may become a bit more irritable and say something that they don’t mean. They should understand that Grandma isn’t in control of her actions and it’s not their fault. 

Try to get them to understand that they need to be patient with Grandma and not question her if she says something that doesn’t exactly make sense.

2. Enable Participation

It’s easy for kids to run along and play with their phones, portable game systems, or simply sit and watch television. They might be visiting with you, but they aren’t interacting with your spouse.

If they are going to continue to build a relationship with their grandparent, they will need to find ways they can interact with each other.

Have your kids bring along some toys the grandkids like to play with. Let them play independently, and Grandma can watch or participate as she wants without any pressure to be involved. 

Younger children could bring blocks or puzzles. Grandma might watch them for a while and then decide to join in. Does your grandkid play a musical instrument? See if your kids will let them bring it along and play a song or two for everyone.

3. Involve Older Kids in Daily Care

Older kids can help with the day-to-day care needs that their grandparent needs. This can help them feel more connected as well as provide some much-needed assistance around the house.

Being involved can also help offset feelings of jealousy or being left out. They will feel like they are participating and helping.

Kids can do things like:

  • make lunch
  • help Grandma keep up with her personal items
  • check the mailbox
  • listen to music or watch a movie
  • wash dishes
  • take out the trash
  • bake cookies together
  • mow the yard
  • clean around the house
  • look over old photos
  • take a walk

4. Supervise Visits

Multiple studies have found that seniors suffering from dementia will experience positive feelings from visiting with their grandchildren even long after the visit is over. You should encourage the kids to continue to visit and interact, explain how beneficial it is, and how much they help. 

Make sure to never leave your grandkids alone with a grandparent that has dementia. They will experience memory loss, confusion, increased anxiety, and occasional meltdowns or outbursts. You want to be around to intervene and de-escalate the situation if Grandma were to become upset or agitated. 

If Grandma gets agitated while they are visiting, don’t ignore it. Talk with the kids and review the situation and how it could possibly be avoided next time.

5. Find Activities They Can Do Together

Planning activities that your grandkids can easily do with Grandma will help them bond and maintain their connection. Nature is great for lowering anxiety levels in adults with dementia, and it’s great for young kids. 

Activities outdoors like planting a garden or flowers, nature walks, picnics, and fishing are all ways your grandkids can spend time with Grandma. Bring along a camera and let them take pictures together to make it more fun. You can turn the pics they take into a photo book they can flip through together during future visits. 

When going outside isn’t an option, indoor activities like painting, coloring, scrapbooking, or even crocheting are all activities they can enjoy together.

6. Consider Counseling for the Grandkids

Dementia is a challenging diagnosis and hard to cope with as the disease progresses. Kids are young and inexperienced with handling all the complicated emotions they might be experiencing. 

If they are having trouble coping, they may be acting out at school or spending less time with their friends. Or maybe they aren’t talking and when they do they are more sad or irritable than normal. 

If you think your grandkids are struggling with the changes taking place, consider taking them to a counselor or family therapist. It can be hard for a kid to talk to their parents if they are afraid of being judged for what they say, or they are afraid of hurting their parent’s feelings. A counselor gives them a safe place to work through what they are feeling.

7. Join Support Groups

Coping with all the changes and emotions you and your grandkids are experiencing can leave you feeling isolated and drained. Their relationship has changed and will continue to change. 

It’s hard for someone that hasn’t experienced it to understand. Grandkids can join support groups that will give them access to other people that are experiencing the same feelings that they are. 

They can share experiences and solutions and learn from each other. You can find online support groups or local support groups where you can meet in person.

8. Continue Learning

The more you learn, the more you can improve your situation and make things easier for everyone. Your situation with your loved one is going to change over the coming months and years as their condition worsens. The best thing you can do is be prepared. 

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About the author

Amy Natt, MS, CMC, CSA

President & CEO, Aging Life Care™ Manager

“I am dedicated to working with older adults and their families to maintain dignity and enhance their quality of life.”