Discussing MCI with children
It can be difficult to decide what or how much to share about a mild cognitive impairment (MCI) diagnosis with family, particularly children or grandchildren. Understanding MCI can be difficult at any age! It can be especially hard for children. We are often asked how much to share with grandchildren or if they notice memory lapses. There is no “right” answer, and sharing this information with grandchildren depends on your relationship with them, the child’s age and personality, parents’ wishes, and other family dynamics.
Below are considerations if you decide to share information about memory loss and the MCI diagnosis with children.
-Encourage questions and answer questions openly and honestly, using age-appropriate explanations. Common explanations for younger children are, “Grandma is having difficulty remembering things” and “I need you to remind me because my memory is not so good.” It may be helpful not to “sugarcoat” the message for some children.
-Explain symptoms that you may be experiencing as well as what is going well. This may help them understand the symptoms or make sense of what they may be observing.
-Talk about concerns. Children may be worried about something specific. Questions could include, “How do you feel about the changes you are noticing?” or “How are these changes affecting you?”
-Provide comfort and reassurance. Common feelings include curiosity, confusion, fear, or frustration. Guilt may even be present. Validate feelings, such as emotions that arise being normal responses. It may be helpful to explain that no one caused the memory loss and that they have done nothing wrong. Do not be afraid to use humor if it feels appropriate.
-Discuss and prepare for changes. It could be helpful to explain how current interactions or routines may be affected.
-Let them know how to help and support you (e.g., reminders, prompts to write notes about important conversations).
-Enjoy fun activities together. Explain the benefits of socializing and spending time with loved ones, as well as other brain-health promoting activities that can be done together (e.g., exercising, playing games, trying a new healthy recipe).
-Consider using educational tools. There are many resources, such as books and videos, tailored to children of varying ages explaining memory loss. The Alzheimer's Association offers a resource page for kids and teenagers, as well as for parents and teachers.
Are there other ways you have found helpful to share about memory loss and MCI with children and family?