Mom has dementia and calls constantly.

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My mother, by her own choice, lives in assisted living home and loves it. The problem is, she thinks she needs to call me every time she leaves her apartment and returns. She leaves messages on the home home phone and my cell phone. My cell phone bill is extremely high because of this. I received on the average 30-40 calls a day telling me she is going to eat breakfast, back from breakfast,going to lunch, back from lunch. etc. She calls my home and talks with me and then calls back 5 min later, if I dont answer, she calls everyone who lives around me to come over and see where I am. I have been ran outa the shower with someone pounding on the door cause mom wants to know why I didnt answer the phone. I always tell her I am getting in the shower but she forgets. I have started taking the cordless phone with me to the shower but it dont ring loud enough for me to hear it. Now that summer is coming, I will be ran off the mower by neighbors that she has called and sent to see why I am not answering the phone. The neighbors have been very understanding about this so far but I can tell they are getting a little tired of this. Can someone please give me an idea of what I can do about this?

9 Comments

This is such a common problem for children of parents with dementia. If she wasn't calling your neighbors, I would just say to not answer your phone. But since it involves other people, it isn't so easy.

First off, I would get a cell phone package that has a large number (or unlimited) minutes for a reasonable flat rate. Then the number of calls and messages left wouldn't be so worrisome. Then I would not answer the phone... and I wouldn't even feel guilty. And I would tell the neighbors to say something like "Oh, I see her in the yard. I'll let her know." Then hang up and not worry anymore about it. They don't have to alert you. If they know your mother has dementia, they will understand. If alerting you is the only reason she calls the neighbors, maybe they can screen or block calls from her. That seems a little sad, but I'm sure you don't want to try their good will.

We want to care for our parents with dementia, but we want to stay sane while doing it. People with dementia often can learn certain things. Perhaps she would understand that she doesn't have to call if told a few times. She may feel like she needs to check in.
Jessie is right. Talk to the neighbors and tell them they don't need to come find you, but to tell mom that you're just busy at the moment. You can't fix it beyond that and most people understand the issue, even if they are annoyed by it.

Different cell phone companies have various options, but many of them allow options to specify certain numbers that won't be charged (friends and family type plans). It saves me a fortune with my kids too.
I have to wait for the contract to expire on this cell before I can get a cheaper deal. This company doesnt have anything better to offer. My neighbor that mom calls most doesnt have caller ID so she answers and one day last week, she told mom she could see me in the back yard weeding the flower bed but mom called her 7 more times so she finally got in her car and came up here. She's elderly also and cant walk up the hill to my house. I just really dread summer coming cause I am outside alot more and I know what its gonna be.. Thanks for all your advice. I really do appreciate it.
Sometimes the staff at the AL communities are able to help. You can always ask them if there is something they can do. This is a very common problem for people with dementia, so they may have some way they deal with it there. That would be great if they did.
At a certain point you will probably just have to say no (and teach your neighbors to kindly but firmly do the same ("Mary isn't here, so you'll have to call her directly"). The problem is that the "call the neighbor" solution has been rewarded. The idea that AZ patients can't learn anything new is bunk, but it often DOES take a longer.
My neighbor does not exactly have dementia (she's 98), but she does have insecurity issues that are long-seated and have gotten worse with age, and at one point she drove her family nuts with the same thing -- calling everyone one after another, multiple times per day, leaving 4-5 messages in a row when they didn't answer. She was convinced that her family were really there, but just not answering their phones (they WERE, after dealing with 15+ calls a day PER PERSON for no reason except to make sure that they would answer the phone when she called).
In self defense her son came up with a solution. She is allowed to call him at 9:am every morning and he will answer ,and they will chat. In the evening he will call her at EXACTLY 6:00pm and chat (the calls are short, because not much happens most days). If he doesn't call (and he ALWAYS calls EXACTLY at 6) she must wait until 6:15, before she is allowed to call him. She has caregivers, and together they sit and watch the clock with her, and basically for a half an hour 2x day they get to say "no, it's not 6 yet, it's only 5:30...only 5:35", etc. to keep her calm until 9:am or 6:pm (much better than the previous situation!).

It sound somewhat mean, but she is actually much less frantic now than before, and she ends up talking to her son twice a day rather than having him avoiding her calls for days on end for fear of starting another calling frenzy.
Mom was diagnosed 6 yrs ago with Alzheimers and within the last year has progressed into the stage where she keeps calling, and calling and calling even after I've told her about the things she's calling about. I realize there is a memory loss but in her case I think it is more aggression and manipulation control since my brother lives with her and even tells her about what it is she's calling about. I am also taking care of my husband who is recovering from a near-fatal accident and she is well aware of that; I have recently been diagnosed with anxiety and PTSD from my husbands accident, and my mother is at the stage where 'its' all about her'....my brother has explained to her repeatedly how I will return her call as soon as i can...if it was a very urgent matter I would somehow do that but what she calls about is just minor things. I also realize she may just want to talk with me, I get that, but she has become very aggressive and almost mean and I can only do so much.....my brother tells her to calm down but she continues to call....so, I have to take care of myself also so I do what I can, when I can....I just had to vent, I guess, this site is wonderful for that, and if anyone has any suggestions, please feel free. I am starting to think maybe I should have her live with me, but I don't want to do that just yet. She is not financially able to go anywhere but perhaps living with me might help, I'm not sure. I could be making it worse. What does anyone have to suggest ??? Thank you for listening :) peace....
Lilrabbit, get a new phone. Keep the one your mother is calling just for her, but either turn it off (if it's a cellphone) or turn off the ringer and use an answerphone. Then try to get in to the habit of calling your mother at set times of your choosing; and of course give your brother your new number so that if there is a real problem he can call or text you.

Living with you might help whom? Not you! Not your husband. And not really your mother, because wherever she's living her brain will still not work.

Ironically, some of your mother's current agitation may be the result of her having been made aware of the accident. If she was diagnosed six years ago, I'd guess it's not likely she can retain all the details, but it's possible she does remember just enough to have an idea that she needs to get hold of you. Hence the constant calls. Would your brother be able to use distraction techniques to divert her attention away from you?
For your own sake, Lil, I would have mom seen by a geriatric psychiatrist. For whatever reason, she's agitated and anxious and this can be a symptom in dementia. Meds may help in getting her calm without "drugging" her and allow her and you a more peaceful existence.
At this point Mom probably doesn't remember calling u 40x a day. She is not just bothering you she is bothering neighbors. I think the best solution is to take the phone away. If it's a cell u can say she missplaced it. That it will show up eventually so ur not replacing it. If a landline it's going to be a little harder. Not sure if there r phones you can set up that she can only call certain numbers. Telling her not to call you or neighbors is mute. Mom can no longer reason. Me personally would take the phone away for my sanity. I would also tell the facility they do not need to call me for her. They r just to call in an emergency or what the law requires.

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