TV viewing can create problems for elderly
Dear Carol: My parents have always enjoyed TV. I thought it would be a great diversion for them as they got older. Now, TV has become a huge problem. My dad has Alzheimer's disease, and he can't tell the difference between what he sees on TV and ...
Dear Carol: My parents have always enjoyed TV. I thought it would be a great diversion for them as they got older. Now, TV has become a huge problem. My dad has Alzheimer's disease, and he can't tell the difference between what he sees on TV and what is real. He gets frightened and often angry over what he sees.
He will need to move to a nursing home before long. I see many residents in the homes watching TV. That's fine for them, but what about Dad? - Shirley
Dear Shirley: I had a love/hate relationship with television during my parents' last years. My mom loved public television. Lawrence Welk and the British comedies were her favorite shows, but she enjoyed all of their music programs.
With Dad, it was drastically different. Since brain surgery had altered his view of reality (much like Alzheimer's), we often had a disaster on our hands, brought about because a well-meaning - but new - aide had turned on his TV for him, after getting him ready for bed. Most residents could enjoy TV, so it was natural.
Like Mom, Dad loved Lawrence Welk. I would leave instructions for the program to be turned on whenever it ran. Nearly anything on public television was fine, though, as music, history and animals were great loves of his.
However, network TV was nearly always a problem. During Desert Storm, Dad would see the war footage and insist there was a war in the streets of Fargo. When I'd gently try to get him to look out his window, he'd refuse. He'd say he wasn't a child and I didn't need to protect him.
This wasn't a case in which I could just let it go and agree with him. Saying he was right, that there was a war in Fargo, wouldn't have calmed him. So, I would try to explain that he was seeing television footage of the war in Iraq. It was sad and frustrating because he couldn't understand.
I would have taken out Dad's TV, except that there were shows he enjoyed, and Mom would often go to his room and watch with him.
Your worry, Shirley, about the common rooms where your dad will see television, is valid. Also, it's likely, if he has a roommate, that person will have TV.
In your dad's room, you can work with the staff to try to limit him only to programs he can safely watch. If he likes music, you can do what I did. I kept a CD player and big band music like Benny Goodman and Lawrence Welk playing as much as possible. This was music from his youth, and he loved it. Music can be therapeutic, and could distract your dad from his neighbor's TV. If your dad likes hymns, that may work.
Your concern about the commons area is understandable and valid. I found, with Dad, that it wasn't a huge problem. Maybe it wasn't as immediate, since the room was large and there were people around, but it didn't affect him as much as the one in his room.
Work with the staff, Shirley, and you'll come up with ideas. There will be times when nothing works, but you know about those already.
Bursack is the author of a support book on family elder care. To submit questions to "Minding Our Elders" and view past columns, go to www.in-forum.com and click on columnists. Readers can reach Bursack at email@example.com or write her at The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.