Thursday, 27 March 2014

Nanny TV

Okaasan's TV went blank this morning.

As usual I was using our remote from where I was standing in the center of the kitchen making tea. I'd just changed her channel from the usual early morning shopping channel to slightly more mentally engaging (only slightly) Japanese news/variety show.

I do this every day now.

Okaasan would sit and watch shopping or weather news for hours unless we change the channels. Her short term memory doesn't tell her that she has watched the same information over and over, she is constantly sitting and waiting for the current image to change to something more interesting.
If we go in and change channels for her she makes an excuse about not being sure which remote button to press. But the reality is that she wasn't even trying to change the channel.

We can point our remote from the kitchen, through the glass doors and into her room. So we usually just change it from the kitchen.
One moment food blender sales for the umpteenth time - next moment a Japanese news anchor talking about North Korean missiles.
Okaasan doesn't react to the change in program at all. Zilch. In fact you can change the channels several times and she doesn't react.


So this morning I changed her from shopping onto missiles and went on making tea. Next moment I realise the TV has actually gone blank.

Okaasan is sitting looking at it.

I go in and fiddle around with her remote. Our remote, buttons on the Tv etc.
Okaasan kept commenting: "oh, but it's too early for any programs yet. There isn't anything on at the moment!"
After a few minutes I found the picture again and settled her back in with Malaysian Airplane stuff.

What if? OMG! what if the Tv is broken? What on earth will she DO? Not just today...but in the next hours or two until day care come at 8.50 am to collect her? Even that short time span - what would she do with no TV to engage her?
Dear Son had just left for 3 days...or might be 10 days, of ski work.

The thought of no reliable nanny TV to care for Okaasan.
It would be a nightmare.
She lives in front of the TV. Sleeps in front of it. Watches it constantly. Variety shows, cooking shows, dramas - she leans forward and laughs and enjoys. She still understands interesting programs. But a lot of the watching is just passive - hence the shopping and weather repeat screens.
She has newspaper and magazines on the table in front of her. She looks at them. She examines shopping receipts and underwear. She glances at the window. A few times a day she gets up and goes to the toilet, or goes into the other room to move clothes around.
But basically she is there with the Tv.

What did people with dementia do before TV?
I am trying to imagine. Because it is clearly a major part of her day. Of course real human contact is better. But failing that, and I imagine we are not the only working family too busy with our lives to engage in anything meaningful with our elderly relative, TV IS a great companion in the hours and hours of life she spends.

Years ago old people with dementia lived with multi-generational families and sat watching the coming and going of family life? That was the entertainment? They wandered around the local area randomly. They pottered around their home looking at things?

I actually don't know what Okaasan (and we!) would do if the TV in her room broke down.
It would be interesting to see. But I don't plan on trying that experiment. I think the change and stress would be bad for her. I think she'd get pretty agitated very soon.

Anyone reading this - is TV the constant nanny for your dementia-suffering relative? Or do they actually DO other stuff in their day?


  1. I think most dementia sufferers didn't live as long in pre-TV eras. It was first diagnosed in 1905 and life expectency was lower for babies born in the early 1900's. That's my way of saying they probably didn't need T.V. to babysit them because they didn't reach the advanced state of mental confusion and live in the past (for the most part). Chances are something did them in before they got to that point in most cases. In the cases in which that did not happen, well that's a good question, but I'm guessing wandering off and not being found before some misfortune befell them was far more common prior to the era of T.V. As it is, sometimes that still happens even with more people around and better search techniques. One of my friends has a mother with dementia and she wandered off and was missing for over a day. People searched everywhere and they somehow missed the fact that she fell over an embankment behind her sister's house (which she was visiting). They found her, but she was in danger from death from exposure (it's in a cold area). I imagine that happened a lot more before people had a great awareness of the disease.

    1. A day????? Oh no - that is awful. A whole day.....
      Yes, I guess you are right - most people didn't live that long even without dementia. Although family living arrangements were more supportive in most cultures pre-Tv and elderly with family life around them could just age gently amid the bustle of a family or community life...sit and watch it all happening around them.
      Now the family rush off to work in the morning and the elderly stays home alone for 7...8.. hours. Nanny TV is a vital part of the care.

  2. I occasionally gave online lessons to a Japanese woman whose father had dementia. She wasn't very open about his condition, but from what I could tell, he was a bit farther along than Okaasan. His big thing was gardening. I asked her what she planted, and she said he would just sit for hours, inspecting the plants and moving some dirt around with a trowel.