Is it News or Real Life – Does Your Senior Loved One Confuse the Two?

Some seniors, especially those who have cognitive impairment, may be experiencing a bit more angst as the years go on.

Have you noticed that your senior loved one seems to get anxious – – maybe even a bit agitated at times?

Do they watch the evening news every night as a part of a lifelong habit? Have they added to that by checking out the news on the web?

In our family, everything stopped when the evening news came on after dinner and, even though we saw every minute at 6 pm, the adults watched every minute of it again at 11 pm. These habits live on for many.

Now, after the news the comments turn toward “why are so many people shooting each other, getting into horrific car accidents, or hurting children”?

Does your senior watch the news and then report having bad dreams at night?

Could this all be related?

Mental Affects of Bad News for Seniors

Seniors who watch the news reports of worldwide events and local tragedy could become anxious after viewing.

Anxiety can cause nervousness, fear, apprehension and worrying. These emotions could be manifested in challenging behaviors and symptoms. A challenging behavior is one that causes stress or distress to the person with the behavior or those around them.

If your senior loved one has cognitive impairment, they may believe these tragic events are occurring directly to them or those they love. It could be causing flashbacks to times in their lives when they might have been personally involved in upsetting or injurious events. Perhaps they served in a world war, were involved in a serious car accident or other life-altering situation.

Anxiety can be mild or severe, which can not just be disturbing but incapacitating for our seniors. When watching the evening news and seeing the effects of world conflicts seep into their memory will it lead to agitation?

This issue has been studied in children to the extent that media messages could impact behavior. Too much TV time or video game playing can impact mental and physical health in children. Is this also true for our senior loved one?

Tips for Caregivers to Observe, Respond and Impact Seniors Behavior

Caregivers are on the front line with senior’s who may have anxiety or exhibiting behaviors that could be related to things in their environment such as media. Here are a few tips to help you identify causes and create solutions to benefit your senior.

  1. Observe and assess behavior. Can you describe the behavior and what about it concerns you?
  2. Ask your senior questions like ‘how do you feel?’ “are you sad today?” when they are showing behaviors. Are they experiencing grief? Do they feel isolated during the day or feel lonely?
  3. Request your senior’s doctor do a thorough exam looking for signs of pain, illness, depression or even delirium whose symptoms could be triggered by media.
  4. If you notice environmental triggers such as news reports or media such as movies, TV programs or newspaper, decide how best to reduce access to these triggers for your senior.
  5. Investigate their concerns to be sure there are no real issues causing fear or anxiety which you may not be aware.
  6. Reassess if your changes have made a difference in your senior’s behavior and adjust your interventions if needed.

We hope these might help you assist a senior loved one dealing with a situation that might be disrupting their lives.

Strategies You Can Employ

Once you have determined if your senior is having anxiety or if there may be an untreated physical cause, here are some coping strategies for you to use to reduce your senior’s feeling of anxiety to reduce behaviors.

  • Listen to what your senior is saying. Are they repeating what they heard on the news or in a TV program? Are they remembering what happened to them in the past? Are they reliving an event but feeling that it is occurring to them now?
  • Reassure them that they are safe and their loved ones are also safe.
  • Set up a face to face visit with a loved one that is concerning them whether it is in person or via technology on FaceTime or Skype to show them that everyone is safe and allay their fears.
  • Remain calm when dealing with your senior, your mood can rub off on your senior.
  • Treat their pain if that is a trigger for their behavior using both non-pharmacological ways and medications. For instance, soothing music, warm bath, scented lavender in the home, massage and caffeine free beverages could help.
  • Check their medication list and administration to be sure there are no interactions or adverse effects that could be resulting in behaviors.
  • Reduce the environmental stress in the home, such as loud music, distractions to daily tasks, adequate lighting, managing daily schedule, providing adequate rest periods and controlling number of visitors. They could be getting overstimulated by the environment leading to behavior. Try to avoid overstimulation leading to fatigue.
  • Provide regular exercise and opportunities for physical activity that will tire them out to rest peacefully as well as maintaining their physical and emotional well-being.
  • Improve their sleep habits so they sleep through the night to get fully rested. Stay active during the day, limit daytime napping and prepare the bedroom for sleeping.
  • Keep your senior loved one engaged in a variety of enjoyable activities during the day that might also reduce their screen time. Provide tasks, hobbies, socialization occasions, and meaningful activities that allow them to feel fulfilled.
  • Have their vision and hearing checked to be sure they are able to be present in their environment and not limited by sensory impairments. This could cause further fear and anxiety.
  • If there are actual family issues, help them cope with the concerns, talk it over with them, help them offer solutions.
  • Keep a behavior log if needed to determine root cause of behavior which includes date/time of event, specific behaviors you observed, environment at time of behavior (who is present, what were they doing beforehand, weather, etc), your response to your senior (and others around) and interventions employed. After you intervene, what was your senior’s reaction to the strategies you employed? This can be used to create or alter your interventions and create a dialogue with family or healthcare team moving forward.

No one wants to think watching the evening news is making grandma angry enough to strike out at someone or leading to sleepless nights, but there may be some connection with triggering events.

We hope you find some coping mechanisms or ideas to make your senior’s living environment conducive to peace and happiness.

2 thoughts on “Is it News or Real Life – Does Your Senior Loved One Confuse the Two?”

  1. Thanks for this great article Kathy. Cognitive impairment can also be seen in how the elderly manage their finances.

    As you speak about TV / news in this article it reminds me of how often the elderly are taken advantage of by fraud.

    Take a few steps to monitor your parent’s / loved one’s finances:
    1. Monitor their bank accounts online
    2. Setup Legal Power of Attorney for Finances
    3. Put their names on the “Do Not Call” list for mail and the phone
    4. Freeze their credit (so no one can open credit cards fraudulently in their name)
    5. Reach out to your Attorney General’s office – they can call your parents and speak to them for free about fraud if you are having difficulty getting through to them.

    Thanks again!

    • Thanks JP for sharing those good tips! If seniors cognition (and reality orientation) is impaired, it can lead to becoming a victim of fraud. We should be observant of potential problems and take these actions for prevention!

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