Stressed About the TV?

by Paula Spencer Scott

TV can be a caregiver’s best friend when it entertains your loved one and gives you an oasis of free time. But TV can also become an unhealthy substitute for mental stimulation, social engagement, and physical activity. In fact, TV can be as much a source of household stress as it is a stress reliever.

Here, some of caregivers’ top pet peeves about TV — and some possible solutions.

Problem #1: It’s always on!

For many older adults, TV is a constant companion. But most people aren’t really news junkies or sports fans 24/7; the TV has just become an automatic reflex — something to turn on when you walk in the room.

Try this:

  • Turn the channel to more active programming, like an exercise show.
  • Alternate TV with music. Keep a radio, CD player, or MP3 player near the TV where it can be turned on easily. Make sure that your loved one’s favorites are always ready to go. Create special playlists or try audio books.
  • Add more non-TV activity, such as walking, craft projects, or household chores, to your daily routine.
  • Watch for signs of depression. Overreliance on TV might be masking a bigger problem.
  • For someone with dementia, try unplugging the set periodically so that it’s “broken” and you need to do something else.

Next: Problem #2: You can’t find anything suitable to watch

Don’t want to watch sex scenes with your mother? Flinching at curse words? That’s bad enough, but dementia caregivers have additional problems if a loved one confuses the small screen with reality. Says member Marianna, “Our TV is on Hallmark Channel and TV Land almost constantly when my mom is awake. Occasionally I can find a decent movie for her to watch on one of the movie channels, but rarely. She is regularly frightened by shoot-outs onBonanza, or an Indian raid or barn fire on Little House on the Prairie. She doesn’t understand comedy shows, and cooking shows just point out that she no longer knows how to do any of that! Then there are the commercials. . . .”

Try this:

  • Avoid commercial TV, as the ads break up the narrative flow and often use excited verbal tones and confusing imagery.
  • Pre-select your favorite TV shows and movies and watch them online, or on your TV via websites such as Netflix or
  • Good choices for people with dementia often include nature documentaries, sports, historical programs, and family-friendly movies (especially musicals). Classic old TV shows (I Love Lucy,The Andy Griffith Show) may also feel comfortingly familiar — and with so many years of TV history now easily accessible, you’ll never run out of episodes!

Next: Problem #3: You don’t like the same shows

You like dramas; she likes the Weather Channel. Along with differing tastes among adults, homes with younger children and grandparents may also face a generational divide.

Try this:

  • Agree to disagree. No one household member should hold a monopoly on viewing choices, no matter his or her age. Agree to a schedule and post it so everyone can see.
  • Prerecord different family members’ favorites via tools like Tivo, or watch them on demand. The days of having to watch a particular show at a particular time are over.
  • Consider two TV sets, in different locations, for times when preferences differ but everybody wants to be watching. (Note that sleep experts recommend against having a TV in the bedroom, especially if insomnia or other sleep issues are a problem.) Or try watching your favorites on your laptop via a website like
  • Look for options everyone can agree on, such as family-oriented movies for every generation. Keep a running list of favorites to try and institute a regular “movie night,” complete with popcorn.

Next: Problem #4: The sound level!

Many older adults suffer undiagnosedhearing loss and want the volume turned unbearably high.

Try this:

  • Ask to turn it down before you complain. Your loved one may not realize how loud the volume is set.
  • Mention the volume to your loved one’s doctor and ask to have his or her hearing tested. Only about one-fifth of those with hearing problems get help for it, yet modern hearing aids are inconspicuous and custom-adjusted to the wearer’s specific hearing needs.
  • Look for gadgets that amplify sound for only one listener, such as a TV amp system with headphones, Clearview Bluetooth TV/audio listening system, or TV Ears.
  • Do be insistent about turning the sound down to a level comfortable for all. No sense in ruining everyone’s hearing.

Next: Problem #5: Constant complaints or a loss of interest

People with dementia sometimes lose interest in TV altogether when they find it too difficult to follow complicated plots or the disruptions of commercials, which can confuse and distract. They may complain that a show is “dumb.” Or your loved one may just fall asleep.

Try this:

  • Look for slow-paced, noncommercial programming, including family movies that are good for someone with dementia.
  • If your loved one falls asleep while the set’s on, he or she may be watching too late in the evening or may need more exercise during the day. New symptoms of falling asleep often, along with disrupted sleep at night, should be mentioned to the doctor.
  • Consider that complaints about the programming may actually be complaints about the TV habit in general. True, there’s no shortage of bad TV out there — but it’s also easy to find something for everyone’s special interests by using video services, DVDs, and so on. Maybe by complaining, your loved one is expressing boredom about sitting passively, yet again, with nothing else to do. Try these engaging activities for someone with dementia instead.
  • Try shifting from TV to old-fashioned talk. See how to get your loved one talking. You do lose your electronic respite time — but you might gain some insight, too.




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