Therapeutic Benefits of Children for People Living With Dementia

Have you ever seen the effects of a child visiting someone who has Alzheimer's disease or another dementia? If you have, you know that the effect that children have is significant, especially for older adults who are living with dementia.

It's not uncommon to witness a child enter the facility and see a dramatic change in the engagement levels of persons with dementia. Suddenly, "Sarah the resident" is smiling, leaning toward the child and talking to her. If the young child is willing and walks over toward Sarah and is placed on her lap, Sarah is utterly enthralled, smiling, talking to the child, and laughing.

A grandfather sharing a moment with his granddaughter
Camille Tokerud Collection / Stone / Getty Images

Intergenerational Care

Some facilities, including nursing homes and adult day care centers, offer childcare centers where young children and older adults interact together on a regular basis. They might read together, build a tower out of blocks at the table or simply spend time together.

Benefits of Intergenerational Care

There is a limited amount of research that has been conducted on intergenerational care, especially when the older generation involved in the program has dementia. Studies have noted the following:

  • People living with dementia had a higher level of positive engagement when interacting with children.
  • Older adults without dementia demonstrate a higher frequency of smiling and conversation when interacting with preschool-age children.
  • Intergenerational programming allows adults with dementia to be able to teach children things, such as how to fold a towel, how to dust handrails or how to categorize things such as by seasons or colors.
  • Interaction with older adults has also shown benefits for the children involved, including fewer behavioral challenges and improved social development.
  • Intergenerational interaction appears to serve as a meaningful activity and improve quality of life for older adults living with dementia.

Challenges in Intergenerational Care

There are some risks and challenges to facilitating intergenerational activities.

  • Vigilant Supervision: Because both children and persons with dementia can be unpredictable and lack inhibitions, caution must be utilized to ensure the safety of both parties.
  • Increased Planning Time: Adequate time is necessary for deliberate programming of the shared time together.
  • Licensing Requirements: The programs must meet multiple licensing requirements for both the persons with dementia and the children.
  • Space: Most facilities for adults with dementia, such as nursing homes and assisted livings, as well as those for childcare, don't have the extra space required to regularly accommodate more people onsite.

How to Facilitate Intergenerational Interactions

While you might not be able to combine the care of people with dementia and childcare facilities on a daily basis, there are some things you can do to encourage these interactions to occur more frequently.

  • Own or direct a daycare? Get permission from the parents and regularly visit a facility that cares for people with dementia.
  • Have dementia care staff members with children? Encourage them to stop by with their kids to visit.
  • Live near a facility or know someone who has dementia and lives in her own home? Stop by with your children and spread some joy.
  • Have a loved one with dementia in a facility or at home? Ask family members with kids to bring them with on short visits, rather than arranging for a sitter at home. Allow extra time for short visits to other residents at the nursing home.
  • Teach at a school that's near a care facility? Contact the activity director to set up regular visits with the students.

A Word From Verywell

Having witnessed the beauty of children and older adults interacting many times, it appears that all involved benefit from the richness of intergenerational time together. While there are a few challenges to facilitating these interactions, the benefits appear to be worth the effort it takes to arrange the visits.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Esther Heerema, MSW
Esther Heerema, MSW, shares practical tips gained from working with hundreds of people whose lives are touched by Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia.