In this pandemic world, we are all limited on how we can reach out to friends, social interactions have been curtailed. This is magnified when you are a senior and in our case a senior with Early Onset Alzheimer’s. Do your parents struggle to use a phone? When my parents moved up North with us they had to rely on their cell phones, the landline was no more. They came with cell phones that they had used for years.
As the years pass, my mom has continued to shy away from the phone completely. At first I didn’t realize what was happening (this has happened more often than I care to admit!). It appeared to be a carrier problem initially. Calls would not come through, then voice mail notification appeared days after the message was left. This in and of itself caused confusion and frustration. Next issue, the phone seemed to not hold a charge. At this point we did the obvious and upgraded her phone.
The phone was still a Samsung but the screen was just a little different. Every time she picked the phone up, she felt that something was moved or deleted. While this was frustrating for her, it also raised her anger level. This started the association, phone = frustration/anger.
While days go by, the illness progresses. Losing her phone became a regular thing. If she had the phone, she lost the charger. We implemented a dedicated spot on her desk that had a permanent power cord attached. Additional power cords were plugged in in the kitchen and the bedroom. Enter the power cord gremlins. Those beasts would come in and take all the cords and hide them. Sometimes they even hid the phone for days. These gremlins have to be first cousins to the Christmas Elf!
There was honestly no recall on my mom’s behalf, that she was responsible for any of this.
My mom continues to need to speak to her family and friends. She was comfortable if I placed the call on speaker phone and I was part of the call, then she would participate in the call. After the call she would ask questions which indicated that she didn’t quite hear all of the conversation – maybe every third word then she would guess the rest. AHHHH! She can’t hear, it isn’t the phone specifically.
Off to the audiologist and ENT. It was determined that there is some permanent hearing loss that can not be aided by hearing aids. However, part of the loss could be helped with hearing aids. Hearing aids were ordered! There were several weeks that it seemed to help, especially at the dinner table.
Then she just stopped wearing them. No reason given. To this day, she doesn’t wear them. Ok! Still have a phone problem.
With her siblings on one coast and friends on the other, the phone is still necessary, but being avoided at all costs. I researched and read. I came up with a possibility beyond the hearing that seemed to fit the situation. Mom wasn’t listening past the first couple words because she was trying to plan her response. She couldn’t just listen to listen – if she did, she wouldn’t be able to respond in a timely fashion. I asked her about the probability. She thought. She agreed this was her reality.
Still just another piece to this disease. Around this point, mom and I were on a trip. Her phone would ring, she would just move it away without answering. Initially, I didn’t give it two moments of thought. As it continued to happen that weekend , it was apparent that it was avoidance of the phone itself.
In an effort to guarantee that mom wasn’t cut off from the outside world, scheduled calls and FaceTime were the next step. Mom could prepare for the call, whatever that looks like in her head. The best success we have had is when she is in a isolated space, where other activities will not catch her attention (multitasking is not an option for Granny). Using speaker phone feature or FaceTime were successful.
The phone continues to be a challenge. Reading the phone, as in understanding who called and when, is a lost skill. No need for an intervention! Most callers just filter through me. I recently was able to get a newer iPhone, thanks to a friend. I am going to set my old iPhone up for mom. Maybe it will be more intuitive to her.
In review, these steps are the ones we have taken in an effort to help my mom continue using her phone to stay connected:
- Confirm that the phone is working properly.
- Eliminate unnecessary icons. Extras can cause confusion.
- Set a dedicated location for nightly charging.
- Use speaker phone or a video option, such as FaceTime for calls.
- Visit an ENT and/or audiologist to be tested for loss or infection.
- Set a unique ringtone that is readily identifiable as the phone.
- Try different devices to determine if one works better for your loved one.
The process continues. Have you witnessed this in your parent or loved one? Are there strategies that you have used successfully? Part of this is Alzheimer’s, is it all?
Thanks for reading! I would love to hear from you if you have encountered any of this?
“Start where you are.
Use what you have.
Do what you can.”Arthur Ashe