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Understanding Grandparents With Dementia

Living in the Lehigh Valley, we see how families interact, especially the relationships that grandparents have with their grandchildren. Unfortunately, not every child has the opportunity to spend time with and really know their grandparents. This is attributed to several factors, including having a deceased grandparent, geographic separation, and increasingly more common—the effects of dementia.

grandparents and grandaughter

Dementia robs an individual of their personality and dramatically alters the relationships of those around them—spouses, children, and grandchildren. Dementia is particularly painful for those who witness the harrowing transformation from who they were into who they are with dementia. The silver lining is that they had the opportunity to know the individual. This is not true for some grandchildren.

We asked one of the most respected dementia educators in the world, Teepa Snow, who trains health and senior professionals across the nation, what advice she has for grandchild-grandparent interaction.

How can families encourage interaction between a grandchild and a grandparent with dementia?

Explain the Situation
“The most important thing is that the child understands that the grandparent is going through changes. They are not who they used to be and may act erratically. The most important thing is the child understands that regardless of the situation that the grandparent does love them,” says Snow. “Families need to let go of the idea that granny will behave. Teach kids that grandma is different, might not recognize them or even at times be nice.”

Make Everyone Comfortable
Many times with a child present the attention goes to the child, and it may be good to not always visit a parent with dementia with the child. Let the child know that they are there to visit the elder and set the expectation that they are not the focus. Similarly, the elder should be comfortable, in a relaxed setting, with no expectations or pressure.

Encourage Participation
Snow also recommends taking a toy and allowing the child to play independently in front of the grandparent. The grandparent can observe and if they wish to participate and interact with the child they can do so. This allows the elder to have control of their participation and not force them into an activity. It is also a good idea for the child and parent to prepare to bring activities or hobbies of interest to the grandparent. Many times the grandparent will want to participate, especially if it was something they enjoyed or were good at. If the senior enjoyed playing the piano it is recommended to go to a where a piano is and let them listen to another player, and invite them to play. Oftentimes they will become interested and participate, ultimately creating a wonderful memory for the child.

Teens have the hardest time because they have similar changes; they can be impulsive, impatient, and not understand the other’s point of view. “Like engaging a teen, it is necessary to make all feel comfortable and encourage participation in an activity. This typically yields the best results,” explains Snow.

South Mountain Memory Care focuses on high-quality, personalized care, and the safest possible environment for your loved one. South Mountain Memory Care is proud to offer our residents a wide range of resident-focused daily activity programming. Each neighborhood offers activity space for group and one-on-one activities.

The brand-new building is a stand-alone memory care community, meaning that the entire building, staff, and programs, are designed to serve residents with cognitive issues. To ensure person-centered care and attention, we have accommodations for up to 28 residents. The building is divided into two neighborhoods (wings), each offering 10 private suites and 2 semi-private suites. South Mountain Memory Care is located in the Allentown suburb of Emmaus, Pennsylvania, and is easily accessible from the Lehigh Valley, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. For more information, go to

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