What's worth watching?
September 18, 2023 8:27 AM   Subscribe

My father is in a residential Alzheimer's facility and spends much of his time in a comfortable chair in his room. What engaging, colorful, soothing, or otherwise unusual moving things can we add so he has something interesting to look at?

He can't read or carry on conversations any more, so something that doesn't depend on language is key. A TV will definitely not work — there's one in the common room, and he shuts his eyes tightly to avoid seeing it whenever he's in there.

A few months ago we got him a fake aquarium, which was perfect, but the novelty has worn off and we'd like a few options to rotate with it. Lava lamps, digital picture frames, mobiles, and a starlight projector are on the list already. What else would be fun for him to watch?
posted by picopebbles to Shopping (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
A fancy suncatcher, perhaps the kind with tiny crystals to scatter the light?

Woodstock Chimes makes beautifully sounding wind chimes that might be worth getting if his room can have an open window or some other source of a breeze.

Jellyfish lamp?

Is it what's on TV that is unpleasant to your dad, or does even a turned off TV stress him out? I ask because while there are high-end digital windows (like this), I wonder if it would be possible to use a tv or a monitor to display all sorts of slow moving or otherwise calm nature footage.
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:46 AM on September 18 [1 favorite]

You'd have to consider whether the logistics are possible, but I wonder whether a hummingbird feeder, right outside a window near his chair, might be engaging and relaxing for your father to watch. My parents have a hummingbird feeder outside a window in their home, and I find it enchanting to watch the hummingbirds come and feed. They're incredible creatures, especially close up, and I personally could watch them for a long time. You'd have to be allowed to hang the feeder, you'd have to be able to come top up the sugar-water liquid they feed on (or perhaps the staff would be willing to do it?), and perhaps hummingbirds are only in certain climates? Not sure, but might be worth looking into.
posted by ClaireBear at 8:53 AM on September 18 [3 favorites]

Maybe some bobble heads? If there's a bit of air circulation, strategic placement around the room might be some diversion.
posted by bluesky43 at 9:10 AM on September 18

Did he not like the TV because of what was showing on it? I'm wondering if a tablet mounted to a wall like a window that loops through lovely slow videos of nature, baby animals, train journeys etc. I will sometimes run "cat tv" as peaceful background video to absently watch while I'm working on things.

For the digital tablet, you can make or subscribe to artwork and themed photographs and digital art so that he always has something new to look at.

If the facility is willing and you have frequent visitors, pet snails are easy to care for and house.

If he can still follow music and stories, but can't communicate, there is the TonieBox and Yoto which are very easy to use players that can be turned on by putting a colourful figure on top or pressing a single button.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 9:11 AM on September 18

You can get lights (mostly intended for kid/baby rooms) that cycle through different colors - we have a hatch nightlight that also does white noise, but a simpler one might work for him.

Nthing that a TV set to a gentle nature scene might work for him, even if a regular TV show doesn’t. If you don’t mind throwing some $$$, you could get something like the Samsung which is designed to look like art when it’s off. You could even not use it as a TV at all, and just change the display art daily so he has something new to look at.
posted by maleficent at 9:14 AM on September 18 [1 favorite]

I have to vote a hard no on the hummingbird feeders. They need to be changed and sanitized every three days in order to avoid making the birds sick. It’s not worth the risk.
posted by manageyourexpectations at 9:54 AM on September 18 [6 favorites]

Specific examples are arbitrary Amazon results, not concrete recommendations, but: There's also sand art, but I haven't found one that turns over by itself when all the sand has shifted.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 10:06 AM on September 18 [2 favorites]

An hourglass; the bigger, the better.
posted by Stuka at 10:28 AM on September 18

If it isn’t the TV specifically but what is on it, slow tv could be good. Long train trips, migrating reindeer, etc.
posted by nat at 10:28 AM on September 18 [1 favorite]

Color changing clock
Here's a nice mobile if you want something a bit more adult/sophisticated than a kids mobile.
posted by greta simone at 11:15 AM on September 18

goldfish? I'll bet the staff would be happy to feed them.
posted by H21 at 11:39 AM on September 18

my dentist's office has what looks like a TV on the wall but all it shows are gently-paced videos of tropical fish, anemones crabs etc.

The appletv screensavers rotate beautiful landscape photography.

For things that aren't screens -- there is a whole class of visually engaging desk ornaments, pendulums etc -- maybe something like this?
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:57 AM on September 18 [1 favorite]

I know you said watch but maybe a faux kitty would be nice.
posted by onebyone at 12:14 PM on September 18

The faux kitty and/or faux dog. My mom is 90 and does not have Alzheimers but she loves them both and continues to love them more than a year later. 4 C-batteries that are changed maybe twice a year? Highly recommend.

Some additional options in this Alzheimer's Store.
posted by Glinn at 1:37 PM on September 18

I’d just urge caution on any kind of chimes. I’m just mildly sensitive to some forms of noise, and living with a wind chime without being able to ask for it to be silenced, would be torture. With visual things, you can at least look away or close your eyes, but you can’t close your ears.
posted by penguin pie at 2:03 PM on September 18 [3 favorites]

These are just short YouTube videos, but I stumbled upon them years ago and still watch them when I just need to chill. They're recordings of the Kuroshio Sea, which was the largest aquarium in the world for awhile.


posted by easy, lucky, free at 2:46 PM on September 18

My first thought was, as fingersandtoes mentions, the Apple TV screensavers. They're dynamic and visually interesting, but very peaceful--sweeping drone shots of city skylines or landscapes, jellyfish blobbing around or other underwater life. Would a computer screen or TV set to cycle through this or another screensaver program be an option, or would it be too much like TV?
posted by theotherdurassister at 3:40 PM on September 18

This is another suggestion that only works if the screen aspect of TV isn't the problem but the content.

When my mother was developing dementia we got her a large digital picture frame and filled it with a bunch of photos of her family but - and I think this was key - we put on the oldest photos we had. So like pictures from her debut in the 50s, shots from when she and my dad were first married and from when her kids were young. We did have some shots of grandchildren and more recent stuff scattered in but most of the shots were from as far back as we could go. We used an Amazon Echo Show 15 which also had the added benefit that we could use it as a video chatting device if that's something that would work for your dad.
posted by macfly at 10:41 PM on September 18 [2 favorites]

Does he want something he can just watch, or fiddle with and watch? I've thought about getting my father (has Alzheimer's) a Newton's cradle.
posted by paduasoy at 8:57 AM on September 19

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