Dementia and Television Viewing: What is Real and What is Fiction?

We are exposed to so many negative, frightening and disturbing stories. Whether we are watching television, reading the paper, or hearing others talk about them, they are all around us.  For an individual with Alzheimer’s disease, or another form of dementia, this reality can be much too real.

There are a variety of television programs.  As entertaining as we may find them to be, many can be disturbing.  This can include horror and crime scene shows, dramas, and definitely the news!  The person with cognitive impairments may believe that what they are viewing on the television is happening right in front of them, in their space, in their home, in their neighborhood, threating their very safety.

Unpleasant shows can lead to agitation and anxiety for a person with dementia.  Misinterpretations can create an unsafe environment, especially if the individual is attempting to get away quickly.  To us, we may just think the person with memory loss is aimlessly wandering around.  To that person, they may be fleeing gun fire or a robber!

Depending on the time of day, these feelings and visuals can easily carry into the nighttime, disrupting the sleep routine.  Whether night mares, night terrors, awakening frequently, wandering, or not sleeping at all due to insomnia, it can wreak havoc.

Consider what actions you may be able to take.  Limit free use of the remote whereby the individual has too many choices at their fingertips. Eliminate shows with a good deal of yelling, arguing, shouting, or even loud music and noises.

Too much activity can cause someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia to have increased anxiety or to be overwhelmed.  These emotions may lead to agitation and even aggression, and in turn result in catastrophic reactions.

Bits of stories can make its way into the reality of someone with dementia.  Here are a few alternatives to viewing television programs:

  • Beloved old time movies, whether seasonal or not. If they loved “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Miracle of 42nd Street”, let them enjoy it anytime, not just during the holiday season
  • Comedy or romance themed movies
  • DVD’s of Travel Logs or family vacations
  • Nature scenes
  • Cooking programs
  • Watch entertainers
  • Listen to familiar and favorite music

As a care partner, take advantage of this time and do something for yourself. Some television or programing can be relaxing, enjoyable and necessary.  This is time you can utilize to get tasks accomplished, or enjoy the well-deserved cup of tea.  Too much of the same activity can become boring though. Don’t forget to offer a variety of activities they’ve enjoyed. Sing-a-longs, exercise, reminiscing and looking through photos can provide great entertainment and even make the person feel good depending on your approach to the task.

Remember, rather than take away, adapt. Join the person with dementia in their journey. Don’t try to bring them back to your reality. Sometimes reality can be too frightening. Just put on the news, you’ll see what I mean!

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