Alzheimer’s Phone Problems

Because the use of the phone requires use of higher brain function, at times those suffering from Alzheimer’s, or beginning to show some signs, have problems talking on the phone. The following article details many examples, and offers tips on how to deal with communication and other issues over the phone with an aging loved one suffering from dementia.

Alzheimer’s Phone Problems: Little Object, Big Headaches

Sometimes it’s the little things that get you with Alzheimer’s. Phone challenges, for example. Difficulty using the telephone is an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease. But even once you already know someone has dementia, phone issues can be an ongoing source of trouble.

Any of the following “ring a bell” in your house?

  • Not recognizing the voice on the other end.

Before she died at 99, my grandmother’s deafness had made our weekly phone calls harder as the years went on. But between my shouting and repeating, we somehow managed to have a talk that made us both feel good. Then sometime in her early 90s, Alzheimer’s disease made her less likely to answer a ringing telephone, and when she did, she didn’t always understand who I was. Eventually it got too hard, and looking back, was sadly the factor that changed our relationship most.

  • Not recognizing the phone.

Another personal story: My siblings and I began to expect the same drill every time we called home. Moments after answering the phone and saying hi, our mom would say, off to the side in an increasingly agitated tone, “Dear, pick up the phone…no, not that one…that’s the TV remote!…no, that’s the other TV remote…yes, that one…your daughter’s on the phone….” It was funny the first time, and then more and more worrisome as it went on. My dad had then only seemed “forgetful” to us. In his defense, all those black wands with buttons do look a bit alike, but this wasn’t a case of occasional misidentification. In hindsight, his telephone confusion was a clear sign of Alzheimer’s.

  • Not saying anything at all.

Gary Joseph Leblanc, who writes a [caregiving column] (http://www2.hernandotoday.com/content/2009/oct/08/hb-telephones-and-alzheimers/health/) for the Tampa Tribune, deserves a shout-out for bringing up this topic of Alzheimer’s phone issues, in a reminiscence about his father. His Dad, who had Alzheimer’s, would answer the phone at the bookstore they ran together, and remain completely voiceless before hanging up. When asked who it was, “he’d just nonchalantly respond, ‘Heck if I know.’

  • Dialing 911.

LeBlanc also mentions this risk: Lonely people with dementia who dial 911 just to have someone to talk to. (Maybe because it’s an easy and ingrained number?) He also mentions his dad randomly punching numbers which led to accidental international calls.

  • Picking up the extension to listen in.

Later, when my dad lived with my brother, I’d suddenly notice a raspy breathing while I was chatting with him or his wife. Turns out Dad would sometimes pick up an extension but not announce himself. He wasn’t being sly; he simply lacked the wherewithal to join the conversation but liked to listen to us. Of course I always asked to talk to him anyway after I’d get the scoop from my brother, but I learned to ask them to make visual contact on Dad’s activity before we discussed any nitty-gritty details about how he was really doing.

  • Not taking messages.

Another early-stage problem is that someone might seem to manage phone use just fine – but is incapable of writing anything down or remembering to tell anyone else in the house there was a call.

  • Calling randomly and often.

Sometimes people with dementia remember long-dialed numbers (or how to use speed-dial) and fall into a groove of calling an adult child, friend, doctor’s office, or some other target over and over, often at inappropriate times, a behavioral tic.

So what can you do?

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