When being a ‘square eyes’ is a good thing | Care UK

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When being a ‘square eyes’ is a good thing

May 30 2017

Debra Fox, Care UK’s dementia expert, looks at how you can use television programmes to have a positive effect on the wellbeing of loved ones living with dementia.

“We all remember our parents telling us that we would get square eyes if we watched television all day; I have even heard myself using the same phrase, though these days there are so many more electronic gadgets to say it about.

“But sometimes being a bit of a square eyes is no bad thing. Television can have benefits for people living with dementia and for those caring for them. Now, I am not suggesting television is a substitute for getting out and about: we all need fresh air and the stimulation of a change in scenery and this is as true for carers as for their loved ones. What I am suggesting is that television can be an active occupation that can stimulate and engage the person both on their own, or with a partner and in a group.

“Television offers a world of opportunity to stimulate the mind, engage the senses and spark conversations and now, thanks to large screens, comfortable headphones, smart TVs and big button remote controls, it is easier than ever for older people to take charge of their own viewing choices.

“In Care UK homes, if residents living with dementia want to watch TV, our colleagues see it as an active occupation, not a passive one. Our teams engage with residents; they comment on what is on, discuss it, and use it as a means of introducing other conversations.

“Like our teams, you can use a programme’s content to spark reminiscence or inspire meaningful activities such as cooking, crafts and gardening. As dementia develops, people struggle to maintain a sense of time and place. TV programmes can provide useful signals about the time, weather, the time of year, or day of the week and offer a wider range of possibilities for residents.

“Using the range of services that are now available, watching programmes can be tailored into an individual experience. Some of the digital channels cater to a specific audience, e.g. Gold TV shows classic British comedies; Film 4 shows a range of films; Yesterday shows historical content. Replay or catch up services like BBC iPlayer, ITV HUB and YouTube allow you to select programmes to watch at a time that suits you.

“Historical programmes can help to inspire reminiscence, but be vigilant as, while memories can be uplifting and stimulating, sometimes they can be unwelcome. I would encourage people to be aware of the person watching the TV, how they are responding to the content of the programme and be mindful of changes in mood.

“It might seem strange, but our lifestyle teams sometimes join residents watching the television as programmes such as cooking, decorating and gardening shows can spark an interest in trying a new activity or re-awaken an interest that has not been active for a while.

“As with all things, do not make assumptions about what your loved one will want to watch. As we age, our taste buds change, and so our liking for certain types of food also changes. As new ideas and trends appear, as a person’s perceptions alter, or as dementia develops, so it can change tastes in entertainment and, in particular, their taste in comedy.

“A fascinating article, Altered Sense of Humor in Dementia, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease last year, covered the work of researchers who used a questionnaire format to chart changes in humour as an aspect of cognitive decline.

“The researchers found the most striking changes in humour occurred in people with frontotemporal lobar degeneration syndromes, which includes Alzheimer’s disease. These changes were characterised by a significant change in personality; for example they can lose their inhibitions, become more impulsive and struggle with social situations. These changes then affected the comedy genres they enjoyed.

“So, for example, someone who would have enjoyed satirical comedy such as Have I Got News for You or Yes Prime Minister or the absurdist humour of Monty Python, might go off their favourite programmes because the style of humour is reliant on social cognition processes and on the following of social behaviours and understanding the norms of the world around us – skills that fade with these conditions. However, the physical humour of Mr Bean becomes increasingly popular as do cartoons, particularly those featuring slapstick, bright colours and random behaviour.

“It may be helpful to know that the research also shows that many people had developed a dark sense of humour - for example, laughing at tragic events in the news or in their personal lives and laughing at people who are struggling to do tasks – which can be embarrassing when your loved one is audibly laughing at your neighbour failing to successfully parallel park.

“Do not be upset if your loved one starts to respond in this way; they are not being cruel or heartless, it is another example of how they are no longer able to conform to social expectations of behaviour.

“This change of taste can be very positive. Grandchildren can enjoy their favourite cartoons and slapstick comedy with your loved one; nothing cements relationships and creates positive memories like laughing together. If your loved one shows an interest in this type of TV, you can check-out the TV schedules, buy DVDs or stream episodes from online services.

“As dementia affects a person’s sense of time, many people living with the condition become night owls. This can be a good reason to invest in some comfortable headphones. With downloaded programmes and a large button remote control, your loved one can take charge of their own viewing without waking the house.

“Noise cancelling head phones can also be helpful as too many confusing noises can be distressing for someone with dementia and allowing them to focus on one noise exclusively has the potential to be calming.

“The BBC has a fascinating archive (sadly no longer being maintained but still currently online) which contains a wealth of old programme clips ranging from David Attenborough in the 1950s to footage of famous steam trains and fashion. You can view it here.”

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