Helping Children Connect With a Grandparent With Dementia

Visiting a grandparent with dementia can be confusing for a young child. Children may not understand why their Grandma or Grandpa no longer recognizes them, calls them by the wrong name or acts differently than they once did.

But there are ways for children to interact with their grandparent and still have fun, making lasting memories for the child and providing some quality time for the person with dementia, keeping them social and stimulated in the moment.

“Most people love children; they make them happy. And it’s important for children to have a relationship with their grandparent,” says Judith A. Levy, an occupational therapist who was caregiver to her mother who had Alzheimer’s Dementia for 10 years and author of “Activities To Do With Your Parent Who Has Alzheimer’s Dementia.”

“My mother was thrilled to visit with my 2-year-old granddaughter. They played peak-a-boo and sang the alphabet song. Such activities can be familiar to both the child who is just learning them and to the person who has lost many memories.”

When visiting, take a photo of them together, Levy suggests. It’s a nice memory for the child and it becomes something a caregiver can talk about with the person they care for later.

Before such a visit, it’s a good idea to prepare the child on an age-appropriate level so they know what to expect, she says. Explain: “Grandma has difficulty with her memory. She may not know exactly who you are, but she knows she loves you.”

Here are some suggestions of how the two generations can connect:

  • Music is universal and the last skill that’s lost with dementia patients, says Levy. Sing nursery rhymes or simple songs the child knows or put on an old tune that may spark the senior’s memory.
  • Play with a balloon or a beach ball that moves slowly through space. Don’t use a hard ball. It usually moves faster and can be difficult to catch.
  • Look at a children’s book together. Have an older child read aloud or a younger child tell their grandparent a story based on the pictures.
  • Color in a children’s coloring book.
  • Look through an old photo album. If the grandparent remembers who some of the people are, label them with their names.
  • Look at pictures of nature, animals and flowers. Both the child and adult can comment on simple things like colors or how the scenes make them feel.
  • Decorate cookies. Making them from scratch is too long a project but you can use a slice and bake version. Or have some ready to decorate with frosting and sprinkles.

“Keep visiting,” says Levy. “The bottom line is helping the person with dementia remain active and alert.” Yet, she advises, “It’s important to set expectations on reality, not hope.”

Set a time limit for any visit; both young children and grandparents tire quickly. Do activities that don’t require long set up time and be sure to limit outside stimulation. “What you want is a positive interaction for both the child and the grandparent.”

Read more on our blog: Building Dementia Friendly Communities.

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Tagged with: dementia, grandparents with dementia

3 thoughts on “Helping Children Connect With a Grandparent With Dementia

  1. Deborah
    December 14, 2016 at 6:16 pm

    It’s strange that my mom knew who I was but didn’t know the rest she also knew my daughter n grand back this was in the last part of it I had some family member that wouldn’t accepted it guess she knew us three because we were her caregivers it was so sad going threw that with her but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world I learned a lot before n after her dead God bless the ones dealing with it now it’s really hard n takes a lot out of u n u cry a lot because it breaks your heart seeing them that was

  2. brenda.
    January 24, 2017 at 6:13 am

    Thank you for this

    Going through a hard time at the moment as my mother is very frail. She has dementia and it seems that this will be her last year of life.

    My daughter is taking it hard too. She has many memories with my mum, many visits and overnight stays to remember.

    i’m crying a lot

    thank you for this.

  3. Johnny McCarron
    July 12, 2019 at 12:19 am

    Wow, it’s great to know that music is universal and the last skill that’s lost with dementia patients. If my dad ever needs to go to a care center, I hope he gets to listen to a lot of AC/DC and Journey. Music really does seem magical.

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