What can people with dementia watch on TV?


It’s tricky isn’t it? Programmes our loved ones once enjoyed on TV are not holding their attention any more. Favourite quiz shows, dramas, documentaries, the news - all become harder to follow.  Everyone’s talking at once, the narrative is confusing and the images are over-complicated or too fast-moving. Suddenly, what’s going on outside the living room window - birds hopping between branches and people walking up and down - is much more engaging.


But that’s not to say all TV is lost for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. If you choose carefully, some programmes can still provide meaningful relaxation and entertainment. Here are a few ideas:


  • Old technicolour musicals can be a real joy for lots of people with dementia, mainly because music stays in the memory for longer. Meet Me in St Louis, Singing in the Rain, White Christmas, The Wizard of Oz, Top Hat, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Oklahoma all have much loved songs, dance routines and familiar faces. Bear in mind that these films may be too long for many people with dementia so you might need to fast forward through the dialogue to the uplifting numbers.


  • Laughter is infectious and comedy films, sitcoms or sketch shows can be worth a try. Even if your loved-one can’t really follow the storyline the light-hearted tone, upbeat music and canned laughter can relax and improve mood. Try Mr Bean or Benny Hill, Morecambe and Wise, classic slapstick films like The Great Race or even the Muppets.


  • Sports programmes. These can be successful if tailored to individual interests. The familiar sound of leather on willow and the gentle applause from a vintage England test match could prove comforting to former cricket enthusiasts for example.


  • Dementia can affect visual acuity so anything with strong primary colours and plain backgrounds can be good. Children’s TV often works well, although choose carefully as some cultural references might be a little baffling and overly childish content could risk being patronising or demeaning. Avoid cartoons as they are often too fast-moving and chaotic. Bright, contrasting colours, a bit of slapstick, simple short scenes, funny sound effects, young children and easy to see animals are usually winners.


  • What about nature programmes? Animals have universal appeal but filmed in their natural habitat can be difficult to see. Dementia sufferers may struggle to pick out an otter in a brown pool for example – not to mention a polar bear in the snow. Try and find programmes with brightly coloured animals (birds and fish are good) filmed moving slowly against plain backgrounds, and preferably set to music, not dialogue.