I feel like I cannot get anything done anymore!
My father, who has dementia, keeps calling me several times a day.
Sometimes, he really does need something, but most of the time I feel like he calls for no reason at all.
Help! What should I do?
What Do They Need?
Frequent phone calls from a loved one with dementia are a common challenge for caretakers.
You take a break away from caretaking, or you go to work, and your phone starts ringing.
What can you do?
The first step is to determine what your loved one needs.
Why are they repetitively calling?
Here are some (common to dementia) reasons why your loved one may be calling you:
Repetition is a common symptom of dementia, whether it be repeated questions or a series of phone calls.
A common manifestation of dementia is that something has triggered your loved one to focus on a particular situation or concern, and this can heighten their level of anxiety.
So, they might feel the urge to call you repeatedly when they feel anxious or concerned, forgetting that they have already called you once or several times.
They may also have difficulty articulating why they feel the need to call in the first place.
It could be that your loved one has separation anxiety.
This is a normal response that a person with dementia can have when separated from a primary caregiver.
They might see your belongings in a room, for example, and then they begin to feel insecure or anxious in your absence, and this can build up to fear.
Their human response to separation anxiety is to pick up the phone and call you – to connect with you.
Loneliness is an unpleasant emotional response that a person with dementia may feel when they perceive isolation.
When you are away, your loved one may momentarily feel isolated, particularly if they are home alone and separated from others.
This can occur even though they know that you will be returning.
Their reaction to this is to pick up the phone and seek a connection with you.
Boredom can set in when a person is no longer interested in meaningful activities, has a limited attention span, or is disinterested in what is happening in their environment.
Boredom is triggering to people with dementia – causing a person to focus on one single thing, which can lead to nervousness and aggravation, and an overwhelming need to connect with someone.
The ‘someone’ that they call may not be just you.
They may frequently call a string of people – you, family members, friends, and neighbors.
What Should I Do?
The most common (online) answer to “How to stop my loved one with dementia from calling” is to take the phone away.
While this can help temporarily, it may also aggravate your loved one’s feelings of isolation and loneliness, and it can raise their level of anxiety.
Scheduled Phone Calls
Depending upon the stage of dementia that your loved one is in, you may consider setting up a call schedule.
Tell your loved one that you want to know that they are okay, but to only call you at one set time each day, or only in emergencies.
Explain to your loved one that you have a busy schedule, and that you will call once or twice at a given time(s), for example, 10:00 and 2:00.
Routine will help to diminish any anxiety in your loved one’s day, and it will give them a sense of security – knowing that you will call as promised.
If your loved one is in a memory care facility, and if they are allowed to keep their personal cell phone, ask the staff for assistance.
Caring staff will be observant and will help to tamper down anxiety in your loved one through reminders that your (scheduled) phone call is forthcoming.
Activities and Respite Care
Planned activities and respite care may be what is needed to relieve your loved one from separation anxiety and feelings of loneliness or boredom.
Remember, as a caregiver, you cannot do it all – and your health and stress level is important. When you are feeling stressed, your loved one will notice it and they will also feel stressed.
Related: Are you feeling stressed? Read more at our blog, Caregiver Stress Check.
Respite provides you with a way to recharge and take better care of your loved one.
It also gives you time to process your thoughts as a caregiver, which is vital to both your mental health and your ability to be a caregiver.
Respite can also provide some much-needed time away from the phone!
Whether it is for a few hours a day or a few days a month, we have created a Respite Program designed to give you the assistance that you need. We are here to help.