It’s sad but true that people living with dementia can feel increasingly lonely and isolated. Friends drift away, their social circle becomes smaller and activities they used to enjoy outside the home become too difficult to manage. Soon the telephone takes on even more importance; it’s one of the few ways they have left to communicate with the outside world.
Telephones have changed a lot since the person you care about first got one. Rapid advances in technology have made it easier than ever for families to stay in touch by phone no matter how far away they live. Thanks to apps such as Facetime and Skype, Grandparents in the UK can watch their grandchildren in Australia growing up and develop meaningful relationships that would have been impossible only a few short years ago.
However, if those grandparents have dementia, staying in touch isn’t quite so simple. In fact, smartphones and apps can become a source of great stress and anxiety. Even ‘normal’ phones can become too difficult to operate.
Other challenges emerge too. Most commonly, those who are still able to use their phone might start using it a little too much; perhaps the sound of a familiar voice is comforting, or perhaps they simply forgot that they phoned you a few minutes ago. At first, families take this in their stride. After all, repeating conversations or reminding someone several times what day it is, is a small price to pay for knowing the person they love is safe.
But as confusion increases and time gets more muddled, the number of calls can escalate, and the timing of them can intrude until, eventually, they dominate daily life. It’s not uncommon for family carers to report receive twenty or thirty phone calls a day from distressed loved ones. Calls at 2am aren’t unusual either. Even the most devoted caregiver will start to crack under this kind of pressure…
Sometimes the opposite happens and, much to their family’s frustration, the person with dementia simply stops using their phone. And if it rings too often they might even decide to unplug it…
So is there any way to solve this conundrum? As with most aspects of dementia care, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution but there are, thankfully, a number of possible options you can consider. Hopefully one of these ideas might work for you.
What are you struggling with right now?
Constant phone calls
Ask yourself: Is there any particular reason why the number of calls has suddenly risen. For example, is there a special occasion coming up that they’re worried about missing?
* Try leaving reminder notes in as many places as possible, preferably stuck to a wall so they can’t be easily thrown away. Leaving one by the phone too might help. Or try using a noticeboard.
* A day clock that allows you to pre-set reminder messages, could help too. For example, you could set a message to go off every hour saying; ‘the grandchildren are coming tomorrow at 2pm,’ which might help to ease their anxiety and limit their phone calls. Learn more here.
* If all else fails, don’t feel guilty about screening their calls, especially if they’re coming late at night or even through the night. Then listen to how they sound on the answer machine and decide if you need to call them back straight away or if it can wait until tomorrow.
No phone calls at all
Ask yourself: Could the phone they’ve used for years have become too difficult for them to operate? Even if it looks quite straightforward to you, it could be that the buttons are too small or fiddly, or they just can’t remember your phone number. Perhaps their hearing has deteriorated, and they just can’t hear the ring tone?
* Try a simpler phone. Fortunately, there are now lots to choose from, including large one touch buttons, photo buttons (just press the photo to be connected) and phones that are hearing aid compatible. For example, take a look at the Corded and Cordless Telephone Combi which is on special offer this week. Learn more here.
* Be creative. If a standard telephone is too much, there are other ways of ‘phoning’ them. For example, The Unforgettable 2-in-1 GPS tracker has its own phone number. If you phone the number they will be able to hear you talk, without having to press any buttons themselves. And if they want to call you, all they have to do is press the SOS button. Learn more here.
What if they keep unplugging the landline?
This happens quite a lot too. Anxiety and confusion can lead a person with dementia to unplug their phone, often at night before they go to bed, then forget to plug it in again the following day.
* Try using an anti-tamper plug socket lock (available online for around £30) to cover the socket.
* Consider swapping to a really, really easy mobile. For example, the Doro Secure 580 with GPS has only four buttons where you can set four names on speed dial. It also has an SOS button for emergencies and built in GPS so you can find out where they are if they don’t answer. Learn more here.