My parents are not tech savvy. They can make and receive calls on their flip phone cells, but mom does not know how to turn off alarms and dad is convinced they are using up minutes if they leave the cell phones on. They still buy minutes/time.
Now they are confusing their cordless home phones with the cell phones. Dad presses the wrong button (talk button) when he 'hangs up', doesn't actually hang up but leaves the phone 'off the hook'. I watched him do this when I was there. He put the phone down and it was the off the hook beeping but he didn't hear it because he didn't have his hearing aids in. This ties the phone up in 'busy' mode for full days or until they find the phone and put it back in its cradle. Since they won't leave the cell phones on, I have no way (neither does anyone else) of reaching them, so I leave a message on the cell to call me. They never get these messages, now the voicemail box on mom's phone is full.
I called my mom's cell one day and it actually was on and she answered. I told her I had tried to call, but their home phone was busy. She then went to the home phone, picked it up and said 'Hello, hello?' I heard this in the background while she was doing it. I said Mom, I'm calling you on your cell phone, your home phone isn't connected to your cell. omg. And we went through that conversation several times. I asked her to please go to the home phone and hang it up, which she did, then asked her to hang up the phones after dad talks on them.
I sent old 1980's style trimline phones with no buttons shortly before this episode, but my dad doesn't like them because it doesn't have caller id. They have not plugged them in to try them. This was after I had started shopping for them and they did the busy signal thing in front of the home care nurse and she also thought it is "time for corded phones". (edit I spoke to her briefly at that time about it)
This phone confusion gets drastically worse when there is something going on with mom like illness, dr appts she's worried about, company, or a change in schedule. She told me if she "gets under stress a little, then stuff doesn't go right". If her hbg drops below a certain point, she is also very confused. Sometimes mom apologizes about the phones, but a lot of times there seems to be just a stunned silence or big pause and she says "Really??" when I tell her the phone is busy again. So anyway, all this confusion and family there is blowing off the phones I sent, but I am still trying to give daily med minder calls. This and sometimes I think she is just scared and afraid she'll get in trouble with me somehow if she misses an appointment, but I am usually pretty even toned with her and just tell her that's ok if she forgets, she's tired, and that she can just call them and reschedule. I've tried telling her that if their power goes out, the corded phones will still work, that no one can reach them when the phone is busy, asked her what they would do if the cordless phones are dead and the cell phones are dead, how will they call 911 in emergencies? etc, etc.
The next time I go to see them, I'll be plugging the phones into the wall, but that could be more than a month. Now she is talking about sending them back to me. I basically got ordered by sibling to make these med calls and ever since, it is like they are trying to get me to QUIT calling her. the phone being busy all day & night thing has been going on for several years before they both started to decline and I think the only solution is a different phone you can just pick up or hang up - no buttons to confuse. Can anyone think of anything else I can do?

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Send, thanks...that is more to think about. Your experience sounds familiar to me. I am very practiced at deflecting manipulation, but yes this has gotten to the point where as a normal person I think wt* is WRONG with these people. It is indeed crazymaking. They just don't realize it won't get them anything. I will never, ever understand the continued effort in the wrong direction!

I'm sorry to say, I know more than I'm supposed to about what's going on with other family members. Secrets. So sometimes the dementia is to my advantage that way.

Mom does have a check in with people in the area.

Roxann, There was a very good senior meal served in their tiny town and they ate with the locals 3 times a week or so. Then the cooks switched out and the food became so bad, that most people quit going.

Then there were church people bringing food, but mom told them to STOP! Complained it was too much food.

Another sibling and I have both put home cooked food in the freezer, but mom forgets it for months at a time.

I may not stop calling for two weeks since this is leading up to Xmas, but I need to just chill out about getting a busy signal. I can stop trying to get results, agreement, change, and action right now.
I appreciate your comments and everyone's.

Probably would be doing better if problems hadn't gotten stacked so high this year, but they did so I am staying home for Xmas.

It is snowing here, I am enjoying that.
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This is only going to continue to get worse. Make sure they have an emergency pendant or can otherwise summons help. And hire someone to be able to go to their house to hang up the phone and check on their well being.
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I ended up just putting my MIL on our family plan cell phone and getting the simplest phone. The land line she would sometimes answer but frequently didn't dial out rightly and the cell phone works when she's traveling with us and she has mixed luck on her own. Basically if you need daily check in get something like Meal on Wheels or something.
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Oh, so sorry that your concerns are being wasted on what seems like a long-term issue with the phones. Since you say it is dysfunctional, have you thought about how both your parents have arranged to keep it going this way, as it is serving their needs exactly.
Screening their calls, phones off the hook, not answering unless they want.

You can relax a little, because there are two of them. If something happens, it is likely one will have clarity to call out for help at some time.

It speaks volumes that sibling who does go there was unaware of the phone issue, (or is just denying it). You may know this going in, but the dysfunction is just crazy-making.
My concerns would be for you, being jerked around by your dys family, holding tight to that string at the end of the helium balloon until they really need to USE you.

I don't know if this fits your parents exactly, or even nearly, but you are correct. The phone issue is a common sign of the first "problem" of decline to be expressed observable by those outside of the home.

Another is the mail, and the bills go missing, therefore, unpaid.

As I sat with a loved one, I observed the avoidance of the phone calls, the many calls, too many to answer, the loud voice mail so he knew who called. It got so when I called, I left a message that I was calling back in ten minutes. I asked if he was getting too many calls, he answered, yes. He said his daughter upsets him. There were actually too many persons involved, calling, calling each other, others denying there was a problem, not calling anyone.

Much damage was done by neglecting to address the decline by taking real action.
The one in charge, denying the problem, was profiting by everyone doing nothing and being confused.

That's all I can say, it was my experience observing. The parents were fully in charge, until they weren't.

I can tell that you are the ONE.  The one who can get to the bottom of this.  Try putting off the phone solution until the new year.  Stop calling for two weeks.  We don't want to lose you in the process.  I believe you were right to reach out to AC.  Others will have gone through this, and even if it is not exactly the same, someone will say something to help you cope.

In the meantime, obtain the local phone number of the sheriff or police (not 911), but the non-emergency number to call for a welfare check when needed.  They will go by.

Your dB, goes by, but now goes by less.  There has to be someone trustworthy to be in charge.
What are their plans for the holiday?  You seem busy with your friend who also needs you.
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There's also a landline phone with pictures on it - Amazon has one called PictureCare.
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Send, I am acknowledging your answer as probably correct...

I just feel like a kid with a helium balloon on a ribbon... if I lose my grip on it, God knows where it'll end up! It is very hard to let go.

My dB (giving orders) is the other involved one... he goes some mornings to check her meds. It is less now b/c he changed work hours.

I talked to him about the phones and he said he said he was unaware of the problems - even tho it's been going on for 3 or 4 years and neighbors have also complained that they can't get thru to my parents. The others do also help, but not as much. I've asked the local ones directly if they have asked the parents to hire help. No, they haven't.

the saddest thing is, there is no lack of money. Having half-day daily help would not break the bank. It is just the same as everyone else - they do not want outsiders in the house.
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Branching out,
Making the medication calls are not working, so stop.
This won't be the first time a sibling has ordered another sibling to do something and it has not worked.
This is a sign that your parents need a higher level of care, with boots on the ground, not more confusing phone calls. The end result of all your good efforts will be when your parents say: "I don't know what is wrong with Branch, keeps calling upsetting us, interrupting our peaceful day with sooo many phone calls." Or something like that.
Another time when no good deed goes unpunished.

Someone needs to be there, imo.

Sorry, I posted before seeing your last post.

Who exactly, is the go to person who sees your parents more often?I agree that they are not " fine".
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Thanks for all the replies. Maybe check here for some answers to your questions.
This is a complex dysfunctional situation. I feel some regret posting on AC because I seem to realize after I type the whole thing out each time that there really isn't too much I can do from here or in my situation. There are more ridiculous details about the phones, but it is sort of too crazy to explain - except to say their cordless phone system does not work in expected ways.
There are a passel of people where my parents live, but parents only allow Some to help. I keep hoping, since my mom talks daily to a couple of her friends, that one of them might nudge her to consider a better living situation. As far as I know, I am the only one who has directly told them to hire some help, and suggested AL to them, everyone else wants to keep them home and make claims that they're doing fine.
They are not doing fine.
I called mom this morning, she feels bad that I'm getting frustrated about the phones. She said she was going to plug in the phone & call me right away and .... nothing. It seems too much, too hard to figure out for them. Which is why IMO she is further along than MCI.
And yes, the sibling I talked to wanted to know 'what's the deal with the phones?' I explained, but then they didn't bother to plug them into the phone jacks for me because dad complained there was no caller id. sigh. Just TRY it OUT! lol. Jeez!!!

I'll check out some of your suggestions here and see if I can find the products you're all talking about, but then will they go along with it? That seems to be the biggest problem and is probably best handled in person on my next visit over there.
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FF, I think you're right that many side effects of cell phone batteries in close proximity to the brain won't be detected until several years. I can't even begin to imagine the class actions suits that will ensue.

And while this many seem like paranoia, it wouldn't surprise me if the tech companies are using their very ample financial resources (especially the ones paying less taxes because of offshore shielding) to suppress publication or, or further any research on the effects of batteries near the brain.

In 1993, Reginald Lewis, CEO of Beatrice, died of brain cancer. I recall reading, in Fortune, I believe, that he was a consistent cell phone user, and this was before cell phones became as popular as they are now.

Just did a quick search to confirm my recollection and also found that Joe Biden's son died of a neuroblastoma, at age 46. There's some good information on that and its relation to radiation at that site: "RF Safe". Add the https and www to this URL:

Note that this article includes caution that children are at greater risk from cell phone radiation than adults. Yikes. I hate to think of these little kids being exposed at such a young age and developing serious life threatening problems later. And the children aren't able to comprehend the research as much as their parents, who enable them to use these cell phones.

I never even thought of carrying phone books with me in the car, but that's a good idea. We don't travel much outside of our immediate area much any more b/c of the oxygen issue - I'd have to take a battery of tanks just to visit relatives a few hours away. So all I need is a local county directory.
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GardenArtist, the last couple of years I have been carrying the 6"x 9" smaller telephone books that are thrown in the driveway each year. They fit nicely in the side pockets on the driver's door.

Oh, I am also very concerned about having a cell battery too close to my head. I have heard of people keeping their iPhone or whatever under their pillow. Yikes, I would never do that. I put my cell in another part of my bedroom at night. I just have a feeling the cellphone many years down the road will be on par with cigarettes which took decades to prove to be harmful.
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FF makes a good point about the emergency services. When I arrived home one day 10 years ago to find my house had been broken into, I used my cell phone to call 911. (I wasn't going into the house until I knew it was safe.)

I reached a community about 45 miles away; the operator said they didn't handle dispatch for my community and I should call then. That's what I was attempting to do!

Unfortunately, I don't carry a phone book with me to get the nonemergency number, since 911 obviously wasn't going to connect me.

However, I took the pity route and finally the dispatcher connected me with the police department in my area.

So now I keep the non- EMS number in a directory with me every time I travel.

(I can't afford an iPhone w/o compromising funds for something more important, so the old fashioned address books are mandatory.
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Branchingout, I agree with those above who mentioned to keep one type of phone and eliminate the other.

My vote is on keeping the landline regular old fashion telephone.... this type of phone is ingrained in all elder's heads because they had been using them for over a half a century. Some stores still sell the regular land-line telephones, I have found them at Target. Catalogs that deal with elder products also have such phones.

At one time I had my Dad try the landline cradle telephone as I had an extra one. That never worked out very well. Dad wasn't use to pressing TALK when the telephone rang. And he would forget to put the phone back into the cradle. Being the electrical engineer he was, he would get out his toolbox and try to figure out what was wrong with the phone :P I had to throw that one away.

Cellphones and elders do not mix. Even I find them too complex. I still have my flip phone, that's all I really need, and only have it for emergencies since pay phone have completely disappeared. Don't need coin holders in my vehicle any more :P

When a phone rings I just want to pick up the receiver and say hello. I have a land line in every room of the house. Thus, no mad dash looking for the cellphone which is somewhere in the house, a pocket, or in my purse.

Plus if I need to call 911, as soon as the Dispatcher answers, poof up on their screen is my home address, the Dispatch can be having the emergency equipment going out of the bays while she/he is still gathering information. With a cellphone, unless there is a GPS device on it, all the Dispatcher has is the ping location of the nearest cell tower.

Ok, I am climbing down off my soap box.
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I think you might seriously think about taking the cell phones and putting them away, perhaps in one of the small containers for storing important papers. I wouldn't lock them up, just put them out of the way and go back to using corded phones.

Despite so much reliance on cell phones, if they're not charged regularly, they're not reliable, especially in massive outings caused by storms. I understand there are car phone chargers for cell phones, but if your parents are snowed in, you don't want them going outside to charge a cell phone.

Needing a reliable phone during a weather emergency is a top priority for us. And that also excludes the phones linked to cable service. The battery backup life for emergencies is completely inadequate.

From your description, I think it's just too confusing to switch back and forth between corded and cell phones. Corded phones are just easier to use and far more reliable.

The KISS philosophy should prevail here.

Like Blannie, I have service through Consumer Cellular, for $22.4x monthly. I forgot how many minutes I have, something like 200 or 300, but I only use the phone for emergencies. CC changed the free phones to so-called upgraded ones and I'd have to pay over $30 just to get a plug-in cord, so I'm stuck with holding the darned thing and that's a nuisance, so I use it even less now.

Not only that, I don't want a battery that close to my head. The verdict is still out on whether or not cell phone batteries affect the brain. My brain needs enough help as it is without challenging it.

I too am concerned about whether or not there's someone closer who can help them, beyond the phone issue. Are there any neighbors who could just check in on them periodically, or even more often? I think that our county has that kind of service, but I don't recall for sure. Police can do wellness checks, but I think you'd want a more regular check by someone.

Do they get Meals on Wheels, which in our area has a friendly visitors program? Those volunteers are so special; in my father's area, they call the office immediately if the senior doesn't answer the door for meal delivery, and the office calls me. These people are really top notch - caring, considerate and responsible.

Another thing you might consider is getting medic alert pendants for each of them. My father carries his in his shirt pocket or on his belt. We have an excellent service that responds when his position changes to inquire whether he needs help or has fallen.

The pendant does need to be charged daily, so you might consider if your parents would need to be reminded to charge them.

But I'm a bit concerned about your statement that a sibling "ordered you to make" the med calls. Why doesn't this sibling participate in the follow-up calls? I hope this "ordering" isn't a reflection of other demands the sibling is making. What role is this sibling playing? Is he or she close enough to do wellness checks, or is this a distance role?

Lastly, you asked about harassment by telemarketers and scammers. You can check their caller id when you visit, note the numbers and report them to the Do Not Call list, but that isn't going to stop them as they just change the numbers, which are mostly non service numbers anyway.

What I do now is harass them when they call, if I even feel like doing that. If it's not a robo call, that's easy. Sometime ago a very helpful poster posted a list of things her mother with dementia would say to a telemarketer. It was hilarious. So I've tried to do something similar and have some fun with the unwanted calls.

My father likes to play games with them too. He sings, mumbles, says "abba dabba doo!" when they call, then hangs up. I pretend as if I'm confused and don't understand what they want, forcing them to repeat the same thing over and over. Then abruptly put them on hold.

But it's best just not to answer.
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Blannie commented on what I was thinking. You're aware of the phone confusion but what else is going on that you're not aware of? I wonder if this thing with the phones is an indicator of your parents having trouble continuing to live on their own.

But about the phones, can your parents either go all cellular or no cellular? Either have land lines or cells, but not both? Two cells and a land line or two would be confusing to most elderly people who, as you said, have trouble with just the remote control to the TV.

I used to work in hospice and I've seen so many well-meaning adult children try to bring their elderly parent(s) into the tech age that we all live in and it rarely works out (I say "rarely" because I don't want to be absolute but I wanted to say "never"). iPads, cell phones, computers....they're all just so difficult and complicated for the elderly and then they get frustrated and the family gets frustrated. The last client I had wasn't on hospice, I was doing PT for him and any time he wanted to call his wife when she was gone he'd just hand his cell phone to me. I'd call her and give it back to him so he could talk. Another client I had had an iPad her niece had bought for her because my client enjoyed working on her family tree (before she was declining and frail). The niece thought an iPad would enable her aunt to do all the searching she wanted. When the iPad was placed in front of the aunt she had no idea what to do with it. I patiently tried to teach her basics (VERY basic) but she was unable to grasp it at all. She lived in a nursing home and within 2 months that iPad was stolen (which I predicted) and the whole thing was an expensive bust.

I could go on with my experiences with elderly people and technology but you get the idea. As our parents grow more infirm I think things need to be simpler, not more complicated, and technology is complicated for them.
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There are various call monitor services which will screen calls effectively. But as Walt Whitman pointed out, "what we call progress is merely the exchange of one nuisance for another nuisance" - and if the service is working you are quite likely to find yourself locked out from time to time, too.

They have been advertising a cellphone recently which is designed to allow family members to assist the user remotely... I'll see if I can find it...

Doro is the name of the company. They are Swedish, and they do a range of tech products designed specifically for use by older people.
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I got a little lost in the description of all you've tried, but I feel for you. In my experience with my mom, I think the cordless phone(s) are too confusing for some seniors. I'd go back to old-style corded, landline phones. You should be able to get corded phones with caller ID.

As for the cell phones, is there a way you can set up the cell phones so they're not buying minutes? I use Consumer Cellular and it costs me about $30 a month because I don't use my cell that often. That way, they'll forget about using their minutes and having to buy minutes and maybe just leave them on. But then they've got to remember to charge them. I never got my mom a cell phone or a cordless landline phone because I knew she couldn't manage them. She could barely manage the remote control for her TV.

Is there anyone local who can go in and get the messages off their phones and get them set up with their phones correctly right now? A relative or friend? I do that kind of thing for seniors in my condo bldg.

The other thing I'd worry is whether this lack of phone skill is reflective of the rest of their day-to-day life being out-of-control. It sounds like they may be hanging on by a thread. So I'd get someone with some eyes on them ASAP to make sure they're managing their daily activities and aren't overwhelmed with daily living. Check their fridge to see that there's food, see if they're taking their meds, make sure their home is clean, etc.
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Not sure where your sibling is in all this, but for my money, your parents both need to be worked up for cognitive impairment. It seems like this goes a little beyond "not tech savvy".

I'm hoping others will chime in with good suggestions, but it feels to me like they either need someone there with them pretty much full time, or to be in either Independent or Assisted Living, someplace where there are other folks around and perhaps with Medication Management.

Are they still capable of taking their meds correctly? How do you know?
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Also, if anyone knows a nifty way to block all the political, charity type calls that would be good information to have since that's why they are screening calls.
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