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Watching TV and Sleeping

Friday September 23, 2022

“My loved one spends all day watching TV and sleeping.” Have you ever said this statement before? We hear it a lot. It is usually followed by a sigh. Many caregivers wish that their loved one would spend the day doing anything else.

Before we can address the behavior, it is important to understand why your loved one is spending days like this. People, with or without memory impairment, want to be seen as competent and successful. Up to a certain point in the disease process, individuals with dementia are aware that they are forgetting. They are aware that they are no longer able to successfully complete a task as they have before.

Some examples:
Mom always enjoyed doing crossword puzzles in ink and now worries she will mess up.
Dad used to be so very particular about the yard but now can’t keep it up as he used to.
Your wife used to be a social butterfly, going to lunch with friends and serving on committees at church, but now she shows no interest and refuses. 

When we realize we won’t be successful in a task, we usually stop attempting the task. It is much easier on self-esteem to not start a task than to start it and do it wrong or not be able to finish it. If a person with memory loss worries that they may say the wrong thing or forget someone’s name, they may just try to avoid social situations, so they aren’t put on the spot.

Those with dementia also lose the ability to initiate tasks. Your wife may know that she likes to crotchet, but she can’t remember how to start the project, how to choose the yarn, or which crochet needles to choose. It can be disheartening to want to do a task but not know where to start or worry that you might mess up.

If you think about it, watching television and napping are activities that are passive. You can’t watch TV incorrectly. No matter what is on, you just watch it. The programs on TV may not make sense, but you can still watch it.

Sleeping is passive as well. No one tells you that you are doing it wrong, and you can’t mess up when you are just sleeping. This is why these activities are so common with dementia.

Passive = Success
No engagement = Success
No questions = Success

Another thing to consider is depression. Your loved one might be depressed and have no desire to engage in activities or socialize. Depression is very common with memory loss. If are forgetting and you know that you are forgetting and you know it will just get worse – that must be depressing. It’s hard to look forward to anything. People struggling with depression tend to withdraw from activities and socializing.

Now that you know why your loved one may be opting for these activities, what do you do with this understanding?

  • Talk with your loved one’s physician if you think they may be depressed.
  • Offer activities that your loved one can be successful at.
    • Instead of telling your loved one to clean the kitchen, ask them to dry the dishes while you wash.
    • Instead of giving them a 300-piece puzzle, offer a 30-piece, age-appropriate puzzle that you work on together.
    • Go on a walk together.
    • Sort coins.
    • Fold hand towels or kitchen towels. Bath towels may be too big and cumbersome.
    • See some other great activity ideas on our Activities for Meaningful Engagement blog post and our Activities at Home blog post.
  • Provide opportunities for social interaction that you know are more likely to be successful. Surround your loved one with people who understand their memory impairment and don’t press with lots of questions.

If your loved one sleeps often during the day, they might get their days and nights mixed up. This creates a bad sleep cycle. If you and your loved one are having sleep troubles, check out our past blog posts on sleep: Sleep Problems and Dementia and A Good Night’s Sleep.

If your loved one is not already enrolled in an adult day program, then you may consider looking into those services. Adult day programs allow your loved one to have scheduled activities. These activities are set up for success. At Page Robbins Adult Day Center, activities include art, music, games to promote brain exercise, and physical exercise every day.

When an individual comes to an adult day program, they get the benefit of all the activities, engagement, and socialization. Then, they go home tired and hopefully sleep better at night, helping get into a regular sleep/wake schedule. Whether you choose to pursue adult day services or not, look for purposeful activities and socialization where your loved one can be successful.

Written by Sheri Wammack, LBSW