Repetitive Phone Calling as Dementia Behavior

Senior with dementia displaying repetitive phone calling as dementia behavior

Adult Day Services (ADS) Program Supervisor, Alison Sarkozy shares another great article on the challenges of repetitive phone calling as dementia behavior. This may be effecting some of our senior clients and family who are learning to cope with the ever-changing and disconcerting behaviors related to dementia.

Dementia Behaviors: Repetitive Phone Calling

By Ava M. Stinnett

Whether your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, it’s important to know that confusion, memory loss, and difficulty performing everyday activities are common overlapping symptoms. A healthcare provider may use a simple three-phase model (mild/early, moderate/middle, and severe/late) to describe the progression of the disease. Although symptoms will vary for each person, learning more about how dementia unfolds over several years can guide you as you plan for a loved one’s care.

In the mild to moderate stage, symptoms may include loss of awareness of recent events, personality changes, confusion about surroundings, and repetition of particular actions or behaviors. For example, some people with dementia make phone calls to their loved ones over and over again—particularly in the middle of the night or early morning. This might occur because they forget that they have already called; it’s also possible that they’re feeling insecure, anxious, or even bored and need to be occupied. Still others with dementia call just to make sure someone answers the phone. Medical professionals sometimes call this act of going through the motions of familiar activities “perserveration” (Rosenzweig, 2017).

 On the Receiving End of Repetitive Phone Calling as Dementia Behavior

As a loved one on the receiving end of the phone calls, it can be frustrating or distressing—even more so when your elder calls your neighbors, other relatives, or even physicians when they don’t reach you after several unanswered calls. Additionally, the expense of long distance calls or overage of mobile phone minutes can become problematic. What steps can you take to alleviate this behavior?

First, talk with your loved one’s healthcare provider to determine whether medication needs to be adjusted or if another type of treatment for dementia is warranted. It might help to get a phone with a number recognition display so that you, other family members, and friends can decide whether or not to answer. Switching ringers off at night is another option. While you may feel guilty about not answering every call, it’s important to try to stop the repetitive calling—for you and for your loved one. Another option, depending on how far the disease has progressed, is to purchase a telephone that has no dial or buttons to place calls; the phone is for incoming calls only. In that case, however, you must first assess the situation to ensure that safety options are available in case of emergency.

If you can, create a pleasant diversion such as taking a walk, looking through a photo album, sorting and folding clothes, or listening to soothing music. Try to redirect by changing the focus from anxious behavior to a favorite pastime such as sanding wood, gardening, or providing a safe environment for cooking or baking. Once you can identify the emotion associated with the behavior (e.g., fear, anxiety, boredom, anger, loneliness), you can react to it instead of to the question or behavior. Taking time to express words of reassurance, understanding, and caring can do wonders to ease the challenges of being a caregiver.

Sources

Rosenzweig, A. (2017, May 26). Perseveration in Alzheimer’s and Other Dementia: Getting Stuck. Retrieved from https://www.verywell.com/perseveration-98602

The Alzheimer’s Association. (2017). Repetition and Alzheimer’s. Retrieved from http://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-repetition.asp
The Care Support Services. (2012, January 8). Repetitive behaviors and the frustration they present to the dementia caregiver. Retrieved from http://thecaresupport.com/repetitive-behaviors-and-the-frustration-they-present-to-the-dementia-caregiver