Witnessing the mental decline of an elderly relative can be upsetting and confusing for anyone—but especially for children and teens. Natural questions a child might ask: Do they know who I am? Do they still love me? Why can’t they remember? Will this happen to me or my parents? What will happen next?
Thankfully, there are books that can help you answer these questions. Whether your child is in preschool or a teenager, authors have addressed dementia at a variety of age-appropriate levels. If you’re struggling to explain dementia to your kids, here’s some books that can help.
Ages 3-7: Newspaper Hats by Phil Cummings
When Georgie and her dad visit Grandpa, Grandpa cannot remember Georgie… but he does remember how to make paper hats. The two bond over creating hats for other residents in his home. These paper hats become a metaphor for dementia that children can understand when Georgie’s hat blows away and she runs after it, similar to what’s happening to Grandpa’s memories. Paper Hats is an excellent book that teaches young children that just because someone might have problems remembering, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t Grandma or Grandpa anymore. [Buy it on Amazon]
Ages 4-8: Forget Me Not by Nancy Van Laan
When Grandma starts forgetting names and losing track of where she parked her car, Julie and her family become worried. But when they find Grandma wandering the neighborhood, they need to make an important decision: for her own safety, Grandma must be moved from her home to an assisted living community. Julia is upset by this change, but eventually recognizes that Grandma is both happier and safer in her new place. In Forget Me Not, Van Laan delicately explores the stage of moving an elderly relative into a safer environment, a topic that may be hard for children to understand and accept. [Buy it on Amazon]
Ages 5-8: What’s Happening To Grandpa? by Maria Shriver
Kate loves to listen to Grandpa’s stories, but when he starts repeating the same story over and over again, Kate becomes confused. Then Grandpa forgets Kate’s name. After her mother explains about Alzheimer’s, Kate decides she wants to help Grandpa. Together, they create a photo album of old pictures, so Grandpa can capture the stories and memories he still has. The book provides simple, clear facts about Alzheimer’s so children can understand what happens to their loved ones as the disease progresses. [Buy it on Amazon]
Ages 5-10: Weeds in Nana’s Garden by Kathryn Harrison
When a young girl discovers weeds in Nana’s garden, she learns that her grandmother is suffering from Alzheimer’s, which tangles up her brain just like weeds do to flowers. As Nana declines, the weeds grow thicker, until the young girl learns to accept her new role in the family, and becomes the garden’s caregiver. Based on her own personal experience with her mother’s dementia and her daughter’s observation was that it was like weeds, the end of Harrison’s book provides a series of questions and answers that can help children better understand the disease. [Buy it on Amazon]
Ages 8-12: The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. by Kate Messner
Middle schooler Gianna Z. is in a race against time. If she doesn’t finish her science project, she might lose her spot at the cross-country sectionals – and she only has one week! But in addition to being distracted by mean girls, cute boys, an arch-nemesis trying to steal her spot on the team, and a father who embarasses her by driving her to school in the family hears, her grandma Nonna has started showing signs of forgetfulness. The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. shows that as sad as a relative’s dementia can be, life still goes on. [Buy on Amazon]
Age 12 and Up: Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip By Jordan Sonnenblick
After an injury benches 8th grader Peter Friedman from his place as the star pitcher on his baseball team, he turns to his grandfather, a famous photographer, for guidance. Yet even as he teaches him photography, Peter Friedman can see something wrong… something his own parents refuse to believe is real. This relatable story for young adults not only shows the early warning signs for dementia, it shows the different ways in which relatives can react when a loved one is sick. [Buy on Amazon]
Age on 12: Remember This by S.T. Underdahl
Summer will be great – Lucy Kellogg just knows it. Her beloved grandmother, Nana Lucy, is coming for a visit. But when Nana arrives, she isn’t the same: the poised woman who always told her “remember this: I love you,” has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and is now forgetting things. As an Amazon reviewer notes, “Bits of sound medical advice are skillfully threaded through the fibers of this beautiful, touching story, and allow the reader to come a little closer to understanding the seriousness of this tragic condition.” More than that, Remember This shows that just because someone has Alzheimer’s doesn’t mean they stop loving you, or being worthy of love. [Buy on Amazon]
For Teenagers: The Story of Forgetting: A Novel by Stefan Merrill Block
After his mom is diagnosed with a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer’s, teenager Seth Waller goes on a quest to locate his mother’s lost relatives and learn the truth about her genetic history. He discovers Abel Haggard, an elderly man with a hunchback who lives at his family’s formet farm, and learns about Isidora, a love story set in a fantasy world that connects both Abel and his mother. Combining myth, science and storytelling, Block provides readers with an abundance of medical information regarding Alzheimer’s, creating a great combination for teens who would like a deeper, more scientific understanding of dementia. [Buy on Amazon]
Creative Commons photo by Jason Lander.