Television and Seniors

It might surprise you to learn that older adults watch more television than younger people do. Watching TV comprises most of the leisure time for adults aged 70 to 105 years old.

Television can be an avenue to learning new things, connecting with the world, creating a diversion, and providing some light entertainment. However, it can also supplant physical or recreational activities and real-world interactions.

If you are mindful, there are certainly benefits to TV for our older adults. As they become less able to go out to movies, concerts, or spectator sports, TV can fill this void. While some sitcoms and light viewing can help to relieve depression, sometimes the news or similar shows can make a depressed mood worse. It is important to pay attention to what our loved ones are watching and find a suitable balance.

The most notable down-side to excessive TV watching is some decrease in mobility. In general, a sedentary lifestyle choice can be detrimental to bone health, cellular/immunity function, and cardiovascular efficiency. Excessive TV use has been linked with a greater risk for Type 2 diabetes, obesity, lower life satisfaction, and an increased risk for dementia.

TV and the Brain

A new study by the University of Maryland concludes that unhappy people watch more TV, while people who describe themselves as very happy spend more time reading and socializing. Analyzing 30-years’ worth of data, the Maryland researchers report that spending time watching television may contribute to viewers’ happiness in the moment, with less positive effects in the long run.

Excessive TV viewing has also been linked with cognitive decline. This can be because viewers are not spending as much time doing things that can keep their minds sharp such as reading, playing board games, talking with friends and relatives, or working on puzzles. If they eagerly engage in conversation with you during a show, it can be an indication to you that they are simply using the TV to pass time and would prefer another outlet. It can help both you as the caregiver and your loved one to spark conversations based on the shows they are watching.

Use open ended questions like “What decision would you have made in that situation?” or “When was the last time you did x activity?” or “Who does that character remind you of?”. You can also use a board game or book that is depicted in a show as a cue to suggest playing that game or start reading that book with your loved one.

What Are They Watching?

If your loved one is spending more than four hours a day watching TV, it is possible that they are simply using it to pass time, rather than to provide practical information or relaxation. If they cannot tell you what they just watched, it might be time to find an activity that is more brain engaging for them.

If they insist on using the TV as an activity, perhaps ensure that their programming selection includes some of the following to help keep their spirits up:

  • Light-hearted sitcoms
  • Uplifting dramas
  • Educational programs
  • Sports
  • Movies or shows from when they were younger

If TV has become an outlet for your loved one, try to ensure that they are also getting plenty of exercise and movement during the rest of the day. It can be helpful to set up a habit of having them stand up and stretching during commercials or take a walk to another room between shows. Incorporate exercises that can be done from a seated position into their day. On a nice day, suggest a quick walk outside or to a nearby window to watch “reality TV.”

The caregivers at Assisting Hands serving Columbus, OH can provide companionship, help with walks, and support with daily living. Give us a call to learn more.


Sources: ClearCare, Medical Alert Systems, Center for Media Literacy, National Institutes of Health, Medical News Today