About Alzheimer's

Telephone Use

Living With Alzheimer's >> Day-To-Day Issues | 04.24.15

Using the phone: helping the person stay connected

The telephone is one of our most important connections to friends and family. But the symptoms of dementia can result in a diminished ability to use the phone, leading to increased isolation and the possibility of a dangerous situation if the person can’t make a call during an emergency.

Why is this happening?

A telephone—whether a landline or a cellular phone—seems simple enough. But it is a device that requires eyesight and tactile skills to dial or enter a name; adequate hearing to understand the speaker at the other end of the conversation; and legible speech to be understood. All of these abilities can be affected by dementia, as well as cognitive skills such as the ability to remember names and phone numbers. Even newer smartphones, which may have accessibility features such as voice dialing, can sometimes be too complicated for people who grew up in an era of rotary dials and helpful operators.

How should you respond?

It’s important to identify the specific problem a person is having with telephone use. That will help you find the right solution. Thanks to the variety of accessibility products available, there’s likely to be a technology solution that can help the person with dementia continue to use the phone when necessary.

Here are some additional tips that may help, depending upon the situation:

  • For those with vision problems or difficulty pressing the small keypad on most phones, consider a phone with larger, oversized buttons.
  • Keeping a pen and paper next to the phone may help those with short-term memory issues take messages or other notes that would otherwise be lost and forgotten.
  • Consider placing a sheet with pictures of family members and friends near the phone. Each picture would have a name and phone number with it — or better still, the quick dial number for the person if you have a programmable phone.
  • For those with hearing problems, consider an amplified phone or a device that uses lights to indicate when a phone is ringing.
  • In some cases, the person may be using the phone too much or constantly mis-dialing strangers. Consider putting the phone in a less obvious place and setting the answering machine to automatically pick up calls on the first ring.
  • Sadly, the telephone is a way by which people with dementia can be taken advantage. Consider having the person’s number placed on a do-not-call list to keep telemarketing and sales calls to a minimum.
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