Children, Dementia, and Death

Whether to tell someone with dementia that a close relative or friend has passed away can be a tough decision. Perhaps you’ve been in just this same position yourself, and are struggling with what to do. Do you keep it quiet from your loved one with dementia, or do you say something and risk the person with dementia having a total breakdown?

The truth of the matter is that you should tell them. Every parent has a right to know that something has happened to their child, even if they live with a mental health condition like dementia. Here are some things that you can do to help make the situation easier:

  • Remember, patients always have a right to know about something like this, no matter what.
  • The person might cry, grieve, or respond negatively, but remember that even a negative response is a legitimate response to tragedy.
  • Don’t hold back the details if they ask about what happened; however, if they seem to forget about it, let it go.
  • Always treat the person with simplicity (don’t confuse them), compassion, and honesty. Think of how you would want to be treated yourself, and treat them (and the situation) with the same care and respect.
  • Tell the patient when he or she is at their best, in a quiet, distraction-free place. Take the person’s hand and don’t be afraid to show sadness yourself. Tears are a very powerful, non-verbal communicator.
  • If the person is able to move properly, they may wish to go to the funeral, and you should take them, depending on their behavior and cultural preferences.
  • Recall the person who has passed with the patient in order to provide a link for them, but avoid saying something like, “You remember John, right?”
  • Finally, remember that telling them is something that you need to do for YOU. The patient is a family member who you also need for moral support, and it’s amazing how many patients (even those who are non-verbal) will stroke your hand or murmur comforting words to allow you to grieve as well.

To finish up, consider this: What if it was you in the position of a patient? Wouldn’t you certainly want to know if something had happened to someone you love or your own child? However, there are a few circumstances where you may want to consult with a medical professional beforehand; for example, if the person has mentally deteriorated to the point that they are simply unable to comprehend what is happing or if a doctor has advised that they should not be exposed to that level of stress. Otherwise, you should let them know. If you are uncertain of what to do, talk it over with family members and the person’s doctor. That way, you’re sure to go about it in a way that will ultimately be better for everyone.