Is TV good or bad for People with Dementia?

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Watching TV is only bad for your health if it stops you exercising or interacting with other people. Otherwise TV is a great source of information and entertainment.  The TV is often the focus for furniture in living rooms. We now expect a TV in hotel rooms, and even on buses, trains and planes. But the way we use it is different from seventy years ago when TV started to appear in our homes. 

A lot of people don’t follow the broadcast schedule, but download and watch what they want, when they want, alone.  This is a far cry from inviting the neighbours round to watch a programme crowded round the set, talking and drinking tea and standing up for the national anthem. 

Here are five questions to ask about your use of TV when caring for older frail people who may be affected by dementia.  (Remember that until age 75 you still need to pay for a license, even in a care home.)

  1. Are you making assumptions about what will suit a person with dementia?  Bland programming might be as agitating and disturbing as fast paced adventures, because boredom is a real source of distressed behaviour.  You need to know the person.  If the TV is to help them with socialization, the appropriate programme will be as different as the people watching.
  2. Do your staff really understand the possibilities from viewing or are they using TV as “an electronic babysitter”?  Careworkers need to be with residents as much as possible so that they can comment on the programmes and create a stimulus for interaction and conversation.  Staff themselves may need education on how best to do this, and how to read the signals when programming agitates someone.  They need training on how to find out what people really like to watch. Far too many older people are stuck in front of movies that are out of date, on the assumption that they “live in the past”.  Even basic history lessons would help staff get the dates right.
  3. Have you provided user-friendly remote controls?  Did you get hearing aid technology that means the TV can be on at a bearable volume level?  Headphones work well, but people may not be used to them so get advice from Action on Hearing Loss 
  4. Are you using TV to support healthy ageing?  Dementia and old age does not require a focus on the past.  Healthy ageing includes exposure to new ideas, art and culture – all of which can come from good selection of broadcast material.  There are music and movement programmes that can help people exercise and have fun.
  5. Are you sure that it is possible to watch in private as well as in a communal area like a day room?  It can be fun to watch the tennis together in a crowd, but only if you enjoy tennis.  It is numbingly dull to be stuck in front of something you can’t enjoy.   A TV in the resident’s own room, with a programmed package that is selected to suit their personal preference is a great benefit.

If you are not providing a personalised viewing and listening package, you are not really providing person centred care.


More research on this can be found here