Tapping into the Potential of Television

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8416674320_e653709d42_mMost people living with progressive dementia gradually lose interest in many of the activities that they used to enjoy. The withdrawal can leave the person isolated with empty time during the day, offering neither  engagement nor connection.


Draw Backs of Television

Caregivers often turn to television to help “fill in” these stretches of time. Unfortunately, indiscriminate use of television can backfire when used to entertain or distract those with dementia.

People with dementia can be unable to distinguish between reality and television. As a result, when they watch programs showing warfare, other violence or moments of crisis, they can think that these threats are aimed at them. The worst offenders are often news programs that air footage from the scene of the crime/disaster. Therefore, it is not a good idea to leave someone with dementia in front of a television alone.

Another problem with indiscriminate television watching is that it interferes with the ability of people to have a conversation with each other.  So under any circumstance, television viewing should not be a marathon event, but something used in a focused way to help entertain, encourage and reinforce people’s interests.

The Wide World of Television

Despite the potential drawbacks of television programming, it also has the ability to convey wonderful stories, images from other parts of the world, and information on unlimited numbers of subjects. The question is how to tap into that potential to help engage and connect with people who are cognitively challenged.  Most of us will need to experiment to find the content that best engages the people in your care.

Here are some general guidelines:

  • Watching young children and animals seems to offer a universal connection.  Programs such as America’s Funniest Home Videos often feature children and animals doing funny things.   The short length of the segments is great for people with limited focus.
  • Music also finds a respondent chord in most people. Tape or purchase music programs you know your loved one enjoys so that you will have this option on hand.
  • The musicals that were popular in 1950s and 1960s are also well received by most people.
  • Do not expect your loved one to be able to follow a plot line. Stick to programs with short features that provide enjoyment in the moment.  Many of the singing and dancing competitions (The Voice, American Idol, etc.) are good examples of this format.
  • Avail yourself of shows featuring performers or content that your loved one enjoyed in the past. Cooking shows, home repair programs, gardening, nature programs, and sports are examples of programming that can keep people connected to the wider world and their past interests.


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