Dementia Can Be Haunting, Too!

Leah Health Guide
  • With Halloween here, I have discovered something new about my current condition. I think by writing about this, I may be able to help caregivers as well as others suffering with dementia/Alzheimer's to know they are not alone with these problems.


    My husband and I were lounging in bed, doing what all sleep experts say not to do - watching TV before going to sleep. We don't do this very often - but on this night, we were taping two shows simultaneously so we had to watch the third on another the bedroom. I had the "controls", which is what I call the remote control, and in reading over the menu of shows on TV, I saw the title The Haunted Town.

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    "Now," I'm thinking out loud to my husband, "how can a whole town be haunted?" (I've always been overly inquisitive). Without missing a beat, I clicked the channel to find out. Up on the screen came a darkened bedroom scene...the closet door began to open with a creepy sound...the narrator said something in a low voice...AND I CHANGED THE CHANNEL! As I did so, my husband was saying, "You're not going to watch that, are you?" My actions showed him my answer. The whole event might have lasted 20 seconds...


    We went on to watch our program for an hour, kissed, and said goodnight. Lights out. And then the real adventure began. My dreaming was horrendous. My dreams included a slowly opening door, me being chased unmercifully, and great fear. I woke up gasping and with a fright. It was hard to come out of that dream. Eventually, I calmed down and was able to get back to my regular sleep and dreams.


    The next morning, my husband and I talked about the experience. We realized that the dream had been brought on by that mere 20 second experience with The Haunted Town! It made us think about other dreams I have had in the last couple of months. One dream was so real and so horrible that I refer to it as a Night Terror. Is there such a term? I don't know, but it fits! With that dream, it took me 15 minutes or more to really come out of it once I had awakened. I was so scared when I woke up that I actually had to ask my husband to go to the kitchen to get me some water because I was afraid to get out of bed and leave the room! Now, that was not the "real" me...I have never been afraid to go anywhere in this house for the whole 25 years I've lived here! I can't remember what I had watched that day.


    All of this made me ponder the effect of TV on the mind of a dementia sufferer, even in the early stages. I wonder if caregivers/family members understand that the TV needs to be monitored carefully. Even innocuous television shows can be cause of concern because of the commercials sprinkled throughout. Especially the month before Halloween, scary moments can come from these commercials. I can attest to this because I have seen many this year on TV. I try to turn them off immediately. And now, Christmas is coming and with it will come very innocent shows to most. But you should think twice before letting a dementia/Alzheimer sufferer watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas and other similar shows with monsters in them. Even though these characters seem cute to the normal person, the dementia sufferer may internalize it differently. Family members and caregivers need to be cognizant of this possibility...


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    And what about the TV's in the common areas of nursing homes? (Not to mention the ones in the patients' private rooms). Are they being monitored for their content? Is the nursing staff aware of the danger of the TV to the minds of the dementia and Alzheimer patients? I'm afraid that personnel/caregivers/family members may not understand when these patients/sufferers awaken in an agitated or fearful or incomprehensible state of mind. Do they look at the dementia/Alzheimer sufferer as being crazy? Do they understand that it is the mind of the person reacting to external stimuli in an un-ordinary way? Do they provide comforting and reassurance to these sufferers? Do they bring them back to reality in a slow, caring manner...or do they slough it off as craziness and just give more medication to quiet them down?


    (My husband suggests that the television in common areas or private rooms might show old movies, old TV shows from the 50's maybe... during the Halloween and Christmas times...and that any shows watched be previewed, if possible, for any violent or "scary" moments.)


    I worry about these things. Someday, I will be living at the mercy of those around me. I hope I can help make a change before that happens. I hope everyone who reads this and who knows anything about what is happening...I hope you will add a comment. I hope, too, to hear from people in the early stages of dementia (as I am) or Alzheimer's...Our voices together can make a difference!


    Read more on the dangers of tv for elders in Jacqueline Marcell's blog Don't Let Those With Dementia Watch the News!

Published On: October 30, 2007