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TV problematic for someone with dementia

Carol Bradley Bursack of Minding Our Elders

Dear Carol: My dad came to live with my family after of a series of strokes. The doctors think he has a combination of vascular dementia and Alzheimer's which seems to make him unable to tell the difference between real life and TV. He gets angry if I put the TV remote where he can't use it, and I can understand that.

Way too often, though, after I get him set up with something that he'll like he starts fooling with the remote and ends up watching a violent movie, or even the news, and he thinks he is right in the thick of it. This causes chaos. How do I control what's bad for him without taking away his right to choose? — CL

Dear CL: It's insightful of you to understand how important it is for your dad to choose the programs that he wants to watch. The ability to make choices is vital until we die. While it seems little enough to be able to choose one's entertainment, as you noted, some choices must be limited as unobtrusively as possible when potential harm is involved.

I had a similar experience when my dad was in a nursing home. Even though I scoured the town for a large button, simple remote, I couldn't find anything that worked. This was years back so there were far fewer choices of products for people with dementia.

The nursing home staff ran the TV for Dad, and they tried hard to keep him from seeing the news, which was the biggest offender, but one particularly bad time the aide in charge of Dad was busy and war news came on. Dad exploded into an anxiety-driven fear that was heartbreaking. He thought there was a war going on outside his window and he kept telling me, "You know what they do to old people!" (WWII memories.)

There was nothing that I could do to convince him to allow me to take him to the window so that he could see that there was no war here and that what he saw was far away. All I could do was assure him that I'd protect him, which was only minimally effective.

Thankfully, there is new technology that I think will help you with your dad. I discovered a great remote called the Flipper while researching gifts for elders. The ingenious design has just a few visible buttons which are large and colorful. The programming for TV and DVDs is done when you slide the device open. When programming is done, you lock it down. There are videos online that can help further explain how it works. You can purchase this, and many other dementia products, at www.unforgettable.org . It's also available on Amazon.

I rarely suggest a product in this space but this is too good not to pass on. Another great place for dementia-friendly products is www.best-alzheimers-products.com. Note: I have no connection to these sites or products. I hope that this helps you.

Carol Bradley Bursack is an established columnist, blogger, and the author of a support book on caregiving. She hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. Carol can be reached at carolbursack@msn.com.

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