If the person lives alone or spends time alone, make sure he/she has a telephone in the main rooms in which he/she spends time. Not only does it provide opportunities for socialization, but it lets you check in on the person and offer help from a distance – for example, giving a medication reminder, or for the person to obtain help, when needed, in an emergency.
Common problems are often due to both the aging process and dementia. The person may be dialing the wrong number because the lettering on the phone is too small to read, or the person may have forgotten the number due to memory loss. And without a special phone with volume control and a loud ringer, he/she may misunderstand words or not even hear the phone ring. So for starters, make sure the phone has large letters, adjustable volume control, and a loud ringer.
Over time, the person will have problems using the phone, so it’s helpful to know what some of the common issues are and how to resolve them.
Post regularly dialed numbers next to the phone, along with the person’s photograph. Try a “picture phone” that has plastic slots for inserting family photos. When the photos are pushed, the phone automatically dials the person’s pre-programmed number.
Another – more limited – option is a phone that automatically dials one pre-programmed number when the receiver is picked up. This would allow the person to have at least one person to talk to when needed.
Leaves Phone Off The Hook
Another common problem is leaving the phone off the hook. For example, you may ask the person on the phone to check on something and he or she may forget to come back, leaving the phone off the hook for hours or days – making it impossible to call them again. This can be very disconcerting, especially if you do not live close by.
If the care receiver would also benefit from a new phone with large letters, volume control, and a loud ring, consider a phone with a special “Auto on Hook” feature. This allows incoming calls from other phones in the home even when this phone is off the hook.
Makes Repeated Calls
The person may call you or others over and over again, forgetting previous calls. This can be a difficult situation to resolve, but there are several things to try.
Sometimes the person makes repeated calls because of being agitated due to boredom, so it’s important to get the person involved in activities he/she still enjoys. Research show that activities have a profound positive effect on a person’s well-being. The person probably can’t remember how to initiate activities anymore, so it’s vital that you or someone else get him/her started.
The person may call you or the police if agitated or frightened. Common fears include being robbed or strangers lurking in the house. Speak to the person’s doctor for advice and possible treatment.
Some caregivers give the person a special phone that only allows incoming calls. This type of phone should only be used as a last resort and only when the person has 24-hour companionship and support.
Make sure there’s a pad of paper and pen nearby, right next to the phone, in bright colors that are hard to miss. Tie the pen to the book so it can’t be lost.
Consider getting your own cell phone. This way, others will always be able to reach you. This can give you peace of mind, especially knowing you can be reached in an emergency.
Forgets Caller’s Identity
Some caregivers put photographs of the individuals the person regularly speaks to, along with their names and their relationship to the person, on a large piece of cardboard next to the phone. For example: “Tom – Oldest Son”.
Though not inexpensive, a videophone will let the person see whom they’re talking to (the other person also needs a video phone). This may or may not help, depending on the individual, the stage of the disease, and how familiar the person is with the person with whom he/she is talking.