Yes!!  As the world gets smaller for those of us who must spend most of our time at home, the television becomes a very powerful presence in our lives.

The television has always been an important part of Mary Ann’s day.  Most days it is turned on when she gets up, and the one in the bedroom is still on when she goes to sleep.  An odd little piece of Mary Ann’s history seems to me to play into the role television has for Mary Ann.  Her mother turned the radio on in the morning when she got up, and it stayed on all day. It was company for her.

One of the things that scared me most about the prospect of retiring for full time Caregiving was the prospect of never being able to get away from the television.  We live in a town home with 1150 square feet on the main floor.  There is nowhere to hide.  Even when I go to the front room that serves as my home office and close the door, I have to turn on the monitor so that I can hear her if she needs my help.  The sound of the television follows me everywhere.

The problem is complicated by the fact that I am easily distracted.  I can’t read or do anything taking much mental effort while the dialog of a television program is audible.  Gratefully, I am able to focus on writing a blog post that is meaningful to me while the volume on the monitor is fairly low.  Unfortunately, the result of the low volume is that sometimes it is the thump of her falling in the bedroom that gets my attention and sends me running to help.

One of my most hated jobs has emerged as Mary Ann’s dexterity has diminished.  We are on our fourth or fifth remote control trying to find one that Mary Ann can still manage. I am now called on (I usually offer) to use the remote for her to try to find something she will settle on.  Without fail, we end up in what I call commercial hell.  There are commercials on every channel, lasting an eternity, one after another as we try to discover what the program is, let alone if it is something she wants to watch.  After making it through all fifty (or whatever the number is) channels, often there is nothing that has caught her fancy, so we start over.

How is the television Friend?  For someone who can no longer do any of the things that brought her joy, the television is a profound blessing.  Mary Ann can no longer quilt, or write notes to people, or read books or do wash or cook or clean or go to a job outside the home, or go outdoors and mess with the flowers or make herself a sandwich.  The television provides stimulation as she watches programs that interest her.

A benefit for me is that when she is engaged in a television program she is enjoying, I have time to do something else with less vulnerability to interruption.  I can step to the front room and sit at the computer.  I can make a phone call.  I can walk outside the house for a moment.

Let me make an admission that is embarrassing to a guy who grew up in the time when “a man’s home was his castle.”  Mary Ann runs the remote.  She always has.  In our house, I knew it, the kids knew it, the grandchildren now know it, Mary Ann is the boss of the television.  I suspect that admission will void any gift cards to Home Depot, Lowe’s, or Ace Hardware (except to buy flowers).  (I still refuse to enter a fabric store unless it is an emergency.)

The result of what I have just shared is that not only is the television on all day, but the programs on it are of Mary Ann’s choosing.  It is no wonder that whenever there is a volunteer at the house, I tend to seek quiet, secluded spots to look for birds and other wildlife, or just soak in the scenery.

How is the television Foe?  While it is a blessing to her in an important way, it is a curse at the same time.  As I have already said, it is oppressive to me that to have no little respite from it.  I could probably recite the dialog on most of the Doctor House episodes, the episodes of NCIS and most of the Law and Order series.  I have come to loathe the Saturday Spaghetti Westerns.

My understanding is that there is evidence that what is taken in, especially just before going to bed can have impact on a person’s feelings and general world view. I do not know that to be so.  I may have misunderstood or confused what has been said about that.  I do know that watching the horrible things people can do to one another portrayed in graphic detail in words and visuals is depressing to me.

There are some in the online group of spouses of those suffering from Lewy Body Dementia who have talked about the impact of television.  Some have said that their spouses become agitated with certain programs.  One mentioned that sitcoms seemed to be less troublesome for her Loved One.

What streams before the eyes on a constant basis has to have some effect on how a person feels, how he/she views the world.  When I was serving a the Pastor of a congregation in Oklahoma City, a very active, long term member of the congregation was killed in the bombing of the Murrah building there.  Her name was Lee.  As we gathered with her husband, Roy, at their house, waiting for news of her fate, I remember the role of the television.  We all had our eyes glued to it, we hung on every word the reporters and announcers spoke.

The most freeing piece of information came to Roy through a phone call from the HUD representative.  Lee worked in the HUD office.  The information was the assurance that any news of Lee’s fate would come first via phone to Roy, before it would be announced on television.  Roy and those gathered with him no longer had to remain glued to the television.

It didn’t take me long in that situation to realize that the television reporting hour by hour, day by day, could create a terrifying view of reality in the minds of those who were homebound, for whom the television was a constant companion.  I asked folks in the congregation to phone homebound friends and neighbors to reassure them.

The solution seemed to me to be getting the homebound out of the house, even if it was just to stand outside and look around.  Then they could see with their very own eyes that reality had not been shattered completely.  The houses around them were still there.  The sidewalks and streets, the trees and flowers and birds and squirrels were still as they had been.

For the most part what is seen on television is not real.  Reality television programs have been set up for their entertainment value — they are not real.  Even the news is a gathering of sensational stories framed in ways that are as dramatic as possible to keep viewers coming back to that station.  The antidote to what is not real is what is real.

It is important to get away from the television and find a way to interact with live people.   The people on television are acting, pretending, entertaining.  The troubled economy is real, the swine flu is real, but the world has not crumbled into useless rubble.  Interacting with real people allows the possibility of making good decisions about doing what you can actually do to help protect your savings or increase the chances of your avoiding catching the flu.

Used appropriately, television can be a helpful tool in caring for someone whose life has been drastically altered by a debilitating disease.  It is a tool like a knife.  It is very useful, but also dangerous.  As a window through which reality is experienced, it can increase the fears of someone who is already afraid of what is coming due to their disease.  It needs not to be the only window.

For some whose Loved Ones are no longer able to get out at all, or are overstimulated by going out in public, finding music to listen to, television programs that lift their spirits, reading to them, singing to them or with them, reminiscing about times gone by with them (or to them if they are no longer verbal), inviting an old friend over, offer some options that might work with them.

Yes, the television is friend and foe.  It is not a healthy substitute for reality, real people, real relationships.  It is a tool that needs to be used carefully.

Now I need to go and find out if Tony and Agent David have traced down the information Gibbs needs to solve the murders.  (I already know, I have seen it at least twelve times!)

P.S. In case you are wondering what a fabric store emergency might be, it is this: you take your suit coat to a sewing shop to have a button sewn on only to be sent to the fabric store to find replacements that match, since you lost the button that came off.  It was a terrifying experience!  It is a wonder that I lived to tell about it!

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