Television and Dementia

Let’s just admit it: Most of us watch TV more than we should.  It’s an easy way to pass the time.  Especially when it’s cold and rainy outside.  Especially when you’re not as active as you used to be.  And especially when you have dementia.  TV seems like a good time filler. 

Television isn’t a bad thing.  It’s okay to watch good content in moderation.

Please Note: There are many other activities that are better for your loved one’s physical, emotional, and cognitive health than TV.  Walking, playing a game, reading, visiting with friends, etc.  (You can find a previous blog post about activities here and a list of in-home activities here.)

Dementia affects people’s perception.  Your loved one with memory loss may have a very different experience watching TV than you because of this altered perception.  They may think that the things they’re seeing on TV are happening in real life.  Some examples:

Mom watches a news story about a burglary.  Now, she thinks she has been burglarized.

Your wife watches a crime show about a serial killer.  Now, she is convinced that the serial killer is after her.

Dad watches the news every evening.  Now, he thinks the national news anchor is his best friend who comes over every day to talk about the news.

Grandma watches a sitcom.  Now, she believes that all the people from the sitcom are at her house and that she needs to find a place for them to sleep.

Moral of the story: It’s important to monitor what your loved one with dementia is watching!  Oftentimes as dementia progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult to follow a program.  The person may nod off, lose interest, or ask repeated questions to try and keep up with the story line. 

When you do watch TV, here’s what we suggest:

  • Avoid shows that upset your loved one.  If it causes any stress or anxiety, don’t watch it.
  • Block home shopping channels. Your loved one has impaired decision making skills.  Home shopping commercials are designed to be very convincing.  You don’t want to end up with 7 sets of luggage from QVC.
  • Avoid shows with lots of family drama. Have you ever noticed how a show can alter your mood?  Your loved one is even more susceptible to this.  Don’t watch shows that amp up the drama.  Most families don’t need any more drama.
  • Choose programming from your loved one’s generation.  Examples: I Love Lucy, Lawrence Welk, Sanford and Sons, etc.  This might be a great opportunity to reminisce and talk about times past.
  • Watch a game show.  There’s no story line to follow, so they’re easier to watch.
  • Watch through a streaming service (Netflix, Hulu, etc.), so you can curate the content to your loved one’s specific interests.  Does Mom like baking?  Watch the Great British Baking Show.  Does Dad like war documentaries?  They’ve got those!  Does your husband love dogs?  Search for a movie or documentary that features a dog.
  • Watch a musical.  Music is always good for the soul.  Bonus: Put on the closed caption to make it a sing-along.