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Remote controls can offer older adults autonomy or create frustration

"Minding Our Elders" columnist Carol Bradley Bursack says there are several options on the market, but it's important to pay attention to the details to find the right device for a loved one.

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Carol Bradley Bursack, "Minding Our Elders" columnist.
Contributed / Carol Bradley Bursack
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Dear Carol: My dad suffered a stroke that left him with vascular dementia. Mom works online at home, which is great except that Dad likes to watch TV. Since he forgets how to work the remote, he keeps interrupting her. I know that you don’t specialize in products but I’m writing to you because you obviously care about these things, and you have written periodic columns dealing with technology. Do you have any suggestions? — PJ.

Dear PJ: I’m glad that you wrote to ask about this because remotes are a significant challenge for many older people.

First, of course, there are systems like Amazon’s Alexa that are voice-controlled and can be set up for operating the TV. This may seem like an obvious answer, but not everyone wants a system like that or is even comfortable using voice control. Additionally, people with memory loss may have a problem remembering the command words or phrases necessary to accomplish their goal. For those reasons, we’ll concentrate on remotes.

A personal aside: After my dad developed dementia following surgery, he had the usual issues of confusion. One of his most frustrating challenges was using the remote to find the few programs on TV that he enjoyed. Another issue at work here was the possibility that if he did get it to work, he’d land on a TV channel showing news — which, due to war footage, threw him into a bad place mentally. I scoured our town and what there was online at the time, but never found an answer other than using masking tape to cover some buttons which was less than successful.

Thankfully, there are alternatives now. Your mom will probably be able to determine if your dad is simply confused by the admittedly complicated remote(s) that they now have or if he needs to have limited channels so he doesn’t see things (like news) that can confuse or upset him. If this is so, she may need to limit the choices allowed on the elder-friendly remote and get her news updates on her computer. They’d only use the TV for watching what was safe for your dad.

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The options below should give her some flexibility. To find these remotes for purchase online, search for the name on Amazon or Walmart.

I’d suggest that she take some time to examine the specifics of each remote carefully because some function differently than others. Best wishes to you all on this journey with your dad.

Simplified remotes

  • EasyMote Universal Big Button TV Remote: DT-R08B EasyMote; this is backlit, easy to use and a smart, learning television and cable box controller; available on Amazon .
  • Oxummi Universal Big Button Easy Simple TV Remote Control for Elderly Senior: this learning remote works for infrared only; available on Amazon .
  • Flipper Big Button Remote for Seniors, Elderly: this universal learning remote can set favorite channels and supports infrared devices; available on Amazon .
  • Smpl Simple TV Remote for The Elderly: this universal large button remote control helps the elderly and visually impaired on virtually any TV, cable or satellite box, or sound bar; available on Amazon .
  • Continu.us White Big Button Jumbo Senior Assisted Living Simple Easy Mote: this one-device universal remote control is easy to use, and has learning features and backlighting; available from Walmart .

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver and a nationally-recognized presence in caregiver support. She's the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories,” a longtime newspaper columnist and host of her blog at mindingoureldersblogs.com. Carol's an introverted book nerd, so you won't see her mugging in viral videos, but you can easily reach her using the contact form at mindingourelders.com.
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