Can television play a part in high quality dementia care?

The part television could play in providing stimulation and keeping people with dementia connected to society should not be underestimated, argues dementia researcher Professor June Andrews.

Used as part of a planned set of activities, coordinated by carers, carefully chosen television programmes can provide opportunities for those with memory problems to reminisce, feel part of national events, and stay socially engaged.

The problem is that television has become synonomous with depressing care home environments where television just provides background noise, and disinterested residents sit mute around a screen in dreary surroundings.

But care homes should move beyond using the TV as a ‘babysitter’, says Prof Andrews - and the best already are.

With planning, television has the potential to calm, engage or stimulate...

Professor Andrews, who is Director of the internationally renowned Dementia Services Development Centre at the University of Stirling, argues that individual choice of programme is the key to success.

“I’ve yet to visit a care home that doesn’t rely on TV at all. But I think we need to get away from the view that it is a low grade occupation.”

Focusing on the interests of individuals

For someone who has attended church all their life, but can no longer easily do so, a visiting pastor might be the next best thing. But a TV church service such as Songs of Praise could also fill the gap.

Television can provide a link to national events. Photo courtesy of

The theme tune of a favourite show can calm someone who is agitated or upset, while cookery programmes can stimulate conversation among elderly residents who may argue about merits of different ways of preparing meals. Sports programmes may help stimulate interest among life long sports fans, and national televised events can help people feel connected to society.

New technology provides new opportunities

The exciting thing is that new technology now makes tailor made programming possible in a way that could not be done before. Programmes can be scheduled that can help keep alive the interests of someone who has lost mobility or has memory problems.

Television is something that is familiar to virtually everyone, and used properly, it can be a source of comfort, providing continuity between home and care home. If a programme is familiar to the person, even if they do not take much interest in the plot, the act of hearing the music and sitting down to watch can be calming.

But it is important that assumptions are not made about what people want to watch- either in their own room or communally. Television programmes will only stimulate or calm if they are familiar to the individual watching. Professor Andrews therefore recommends that a staff member is actively involved in planning television viewing.

“Many care homes have activities coordinators, responsible for creative arts, visits and trips. They may not think it is their job to supervise or shape the way TV is used, but with a bit of focus, it can have similar effects.

What you don’t want is for a low-waged, task-focused temporary care worker to decide; or the television sitting in the corner, ungoverned, with residents watching whatever comes on randomly.”

 Professor's Andrew's report is available to read in full on the University of Stirling's Dementia Services Development Centre website  - click on the link here: