Entertainment for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is not much different from entertainment for the rest of us. We work, we play, we take care of those pesky things like shopping and paying bills that are a part of everyday living. Sometimes we just want to forget about all that and relax.So we look for entertainment, for something to take us away from our everyday world and put us, for a while, into a fantasy world, into the world of nature, or directly into ourselves. That might mean reading a book, going to a concert or just listening to a symphony recording, taking a hike, going for a swim or a bike ride, taking in a movie…. The list goes on and on.
The category list of entertainment for a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia is very similar. It differs in the details. In the early stages, a dementia patient will likely enjoy the same forms of entertainment, the same movies and books, that he always did. As his disease progresses, the list gets shorter and the items change, but the need for entertainment remains. Make sure that the activities that you provide are stage-appropriate as well as age-appropriate.
Entertainment for Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
Entertainment media provide us with one of our biggest sources of reminiscence therapy. Old movies and television shows, recordings of old radio programs, live performances and recordings of songs and music from the 30s and 40s; any of these could inspire a memory. And the older movies are often better, not only because they are recognizable, but because they are simpler. More recent movies often have plots that are difficult to follow for anyone, let alone someone with cognitive challenges.
Movies and Documentaries
Feature movies are a first choice for many when it comes to finding a distraction from the routine of our daily life. Musicals, comedies, and movies that feature dancing can provide entertainment without the need to follow a complex plot. What could be more iconic, or entertaining, than to watch Fred Astaire dancing on the silver screen, or even the TV screen, with any of his many partners. That’s Cyd Charisse with Fred in the picture at the top of this page in a scene from The Band Wagon. Many of these great old films are available at your local library in CD format.
Nature documentaries are another entertaining option. Many rely heavily on the visual grandeur of their subject to tell the story. In our experience, people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia enjoy these immensely. Award winning documentary films like The Planet Earth, and March of the Penguins are also available at most public libraries.
Other Video Entertainment
Beyond the documentary are nature videos set to music or the sounds of nature. No plot, no story line, but still immensely entertaining, stimulating and relaxing. This category of movie is made to bring the world into your home. An undersea reef, the Amazon Jungle, majestic mountains, a Caribbean island; all can be enjoyed in the comfort of your living room. These can be thought of as music for the eyes, and provide a relaxing ambiance whenever they are playing; no annoying talking to get in the way.
We carry a series of DVDs called the “Ambient Collection,” and it is just that. Beautiful natural scenery and original inspirational music provide hours of viewing and listening enjoyment.We have all experienced the hypnotic effect of a fire, or of colorful fish swimming in an aquarium. These encounters usually leave us feeling quiet, peaceful, and content. That is exactly the effect that our selection of ambient videos has on everyone that watches them. These are perfect viewed at the end of the day, to relax and prepare the mind and body for sleep. They are also good at any other time that a respite is needed from the daily chores. They provide visual, auditory, and mental stimulation, all perfect for reducing the aggression and agitation that are often symptoms of dementia including Alzheimer’s.
See our entire collection, or view selected video clips.
A reminder when ordering video: Order the video format that corresponds with your equipment. Blue Ray and High Definition DVD provide a much better picture, but they won’t play on standard DVD players. On the other hand, Your DVDs will most likely play on your Blue Ray player.
Talk about iconic images from our past. This young family may be waiting for the broadcast of a Jack Benny or Fibber McGee And Molly episode. From the look on the little boys face he is more likely anticipating sharing an adventure with The Shadow or riding with The Lone Ranger. To you this may be a quaint image of Americana, but if the little boy in this picture is alive today, there is about a 25% chance that he has dementia. He grew up in a time before television. If he is living with dementia today, memories of radio are probably more real to him than are the TV shows he watched later.
So many of those classic radio shows are lost, but not all of them. Unfortunately, the quality of these recordings is not always what it could be. For people who likely don’t hear as well as they did when the shows were first broadcast, listening to these less than perfect restorations might be more frustrating than anything. We are not recommending anything specific in this genre for that reason. This is not to say we are not looking for quality restorations of these old programs. If you know of any, please pass it along. And don’t be afraid to try if you find something. The right recording for the right person might be hypnotic.
This just in! Well, no, but I just found them while doing an edit on this page (6/27/2014). There are several online locations to listen to hours and hours of old-time radio programs. I recommend Internet Archive. According to Wikipedia, “The Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library with the stated mission of universal access to all knowledge. It provides permanent storage of and free public access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, music, moving images, and nearly three million public-domain books.” There is much more than old radio shows; there is music, historic news reports as well as more current reports, spiritual and religious lectures and recorded sermons, and even a 2009 radio science show about Alzheimer’s research that I will be tuning into sometime soon. There are other similar websites. Some require that you download their propriety software: I suggest you stay away from those. The Internet Archive will give you plenty to do….
Novels, biographies, and all the other books that we read for our entertainment will eventually loose their appeal to a person with dementia. There are other books, however, that will retain their appeal. The so-called coffee table books fit this bill nicely, especially those that have a nostalgic, geographic, or natural theme. These can usually be found on the sales tables of the larger bookstores and appeal to many interests.
Another option is illustrated stories. These don’t have to be children’s books. Stories written or adapted for juvenile readers can be as engrossing as adult novels, and the illustrations that they often contain make them visually stimulating as well. Swan Lake is a marvelous example of this. It is the first book of a fairytale like trilogy, written by Mark Helprin, that I discovered when I was well into adulthood. I still recommend it to friends and anyone I think has the gift of childlike-ness and curiosity, the ability to find wonderment in simple and magical ideas.
Music provides wonderful reminiscences and is an indispensable part of a program of reminiscence therapy. To paraphrase a line from a modern movie classic: The one constant through all the years has been music. The movie was Field of Dreams. The constant in the movie was baseball, but the quote works even better for music. It’s something everyone has a deep connection to. Everyone has a favorite song, or several. Everyone has memories that are connected to one piece of music or another, some going back to childhood. Bing Crosby-America’s Favorite Entertainer More than that, music has the ability, like nothing else, to transport us to a different time or place, to brighten our mood, to relax or stimulate us. Many experts contend that music even has the power to heal. See our collection of American Masters CD’s that feature some of the most recognizable and loved songs from the 1920’s through the 1950’s, and at a very reasonable price.
But music is not just for listening: Encourage participation. People in later stages of dementia often remember the lyrics of songs that they may not have heard for years. A person with Alzheimer’s who has trouble putting a sentence together, who stumbles over words, might sing along with a familiar old song without hesitation or mistake. Not only is this enjoyable, it stimulates the memory. She’s not a singer? Maybe he plays piano or another musical instrument: Maybe not well, but that doesn’t matter; or hand him a tambourine or a pair of maracas or drumsticks, and let him keep the beat to recorded music. Merry music making can be done in groups or individually. In residential situations, bring in a leader who has a selection of rhythm and percussion instruments, and experience in encouraging participation.
Videos in the Sentimental Sing-Along Collection contain classic songs ideal for nursing homes, churches, senior centers, civic organizations, families and elder Americans everywhere. Each memory-stirring volume is 30 minutes in length and comes with a set of reproducible song sheets.
The Video Respite® collection was designed to capture and maintain the attention of those with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia through music, light movement, and the recollection of fond memories. It is as if the loved one in your care is spending some time with a good friend. Here, Joyce talks about garden fresh vegetables.
The concept of the Video Respite series is to involve and entertain the person watching so that the carer can have some time to prepare a meal, clean, or just relax. There are thirteen videos in all, so you are sure to find one that is just perfect for the loved one you are caring for. These videos also work very well in a memory care community.
This is one of the best caregiver aids that we have found! (watch overview video)
Familiar music might be the best way to trigger reminiscences. The effect that old old music has on us is the reason that oldies radio stations are as successful as they are. And it seems that no matter how long it has been since you last heard a favorite oldie you can still sing along and not miss a word. People who have dementia may not be able to learn the lyrics for a new song any longer, but they often remember old songs as well as anyone else. And reminiscing to their old favorites brings pleasure and can greatly increase quality of life.