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

Tips to Reduce Risk of Falls

Alzheimer’s and Falling: Tips to Reduce Risks

By Ava M. Stinnett

As our loved ones age, the risk of falling increases. This may be due to changes in vision or perception, difficulty with balance, or cognitive impairment. Side effects from certain medications and medical conditions can cause dizziness or lightheadedness when standing. People with Alzheimer’s are generally at greater risk of falling. In fact, some studies show that problems with balance, walking, and falling may be an early sign of dementia. Falls are dangerous in that there is not only the risk of serious injury but there can also be the fear of falling again and a loss of confidence, leading to decreased activity.

A study from the medical journal Age and Ageing found that people with Alzheimer’s are three times more likely to suffer from hip fractures than those without the disease. If surgery and hospitalization are required, the resulting depression, disorientation, and disability may increase the chances that the person with Alzheimer’s can no longer be cared for at home.

Here are some suggestions to help prevent falls and allow your loved one to remain mobile and independent for as long as possible.

  • Daily exercise, such as walking in the neighborhood, at a local store, or on a treadmill to improve strength and balance
  • Regular eye exams to determine if cataracts, double vision, poorly fitting eyeglasses (or an old prescription), or changes to the visual field have occurred
  • Increasing light to achieve uniformity across spaces to minimize sudden changes in light levels, shadows or dark areas, and glare; using daylight where possible to help with depression or sleep disorders and improve general health
  • Maintaining good foot hygiene—examining the feet for cuts or bruises or long toenails—and wearing shoes that provide good support and have non-slip soles
  • Removing clutter, such as books, clothes, slippers, or other objects that someone could trip over, and making sure that rugs, loose carpets, or furniture aren’t posing a potential hazard
  • Installing grab bars or handrails where needed

Keep in mind that as Alzheimer’s progresses, it may be accompanied by poor judgment or decision-making skills. Your loved one may attempt to walk alone down the steps, walk outside when the sidewalks are slick from rain or snow, or try to get up from a chair or out of bed without help. Despite gentle and, perhaps, daily reminders, memory loss causes some people with dementia to continue trying to do things independently when it’s no longer safe to do so. Patience, understanding, and the implementation of safety measures are the best solutions for dealing with a challenging disease like Alzheimer’s.

 

I Love Kate’s Memory Cafe

Kate's Memory Cafe logo

A Reflection by Kate’s Memory Cafe Facilitator – Katie Donovan

 

One year ago, the first gathering of the Memory Café happened in the “Good Morning” room at Helping Hands Respite Care. It was so exciting to see this program launched. My excitement was quickly eclipsed by a wave of sadness when Hank and Sue got up to dance. The physical similarity of this beautiful couple, so obviously in love, brought back memories of my own Dad and Mom and their struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. I had to step out of the room to compose myself for a few minutes. Learning that they had just recently gotten their diagnosis reminded me of what a tough journey they would have ahead of them.
You see, my father had Alzheimer’s and ultimately passed away in March of 2004 after years in the clutches of this progressive disease. The challenges that these caregivers are facing daily bring back so many memories for me. Yet, facilitating the Memory Café has been such a blessing in my life. I feel such a kinship with the people who come – both those with the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or Dementia and their care partners.

 

During the time of Dad’s progression with the illness our family was fortunate – we had a mother who was a strong and resourceful caregiver. I was part of a sibling group who found a way to be on the same page about care for both Dad and Mom despite the fact that two of the four of us were not able to participate on a day-to-day basis except by phone and email. Yes, we faced frustrations. Yes, we were often confused about new stages and behaviors related to the disease that we saw in Dad; and yes, we were concerned about the near future and the health of our mother as the burden of care extended from months into years.

 

Kate’s Memory Cafe #1 Volunteer

 

For nearly every gathering of Kate’s Memory Cafe, my Mom has come along to be my “#1 Volunteer.” She is 86 and is not as strong as she used to be; she has recently surrendered her driving privileges, and unwillingly succumbed to the reality that she needs hearing aids. I admire her spunky attitude and her amazing ability to make new friends. But, my heart breaks a little bit each time because I know that Mom has a form of dementia which seems to be progressing.

 

The lesson that I continue to learn (and often share at the Memory Cafe) is that every day is a blessing and it is my job to respond to my Mom’s confusion with compassion, and to her endless loop of stories as if I am hearing them for the first time. I remain vigilant for those moments of clarity that she still has, and eagerly welcome a new reminiscence about her life that I have never heard before. (Just a few weeks ago I learned that my Dad painted his car with flat black house paint on the day before he and Mom got married.)

 

It is such an honor to share new ideas and resources with the care partners who bring their loved one to Kate’s Memory Café. At Helping Hands Respite Care we are pleased to have the financial support of the AF Group to cover the costs of the Memory Café, making it possible for us to continue to offer this opportunity for respite, fun, and relaxation to all who might wish to come.

 

Hank and Sue still get up to dance at the Memory Cafe, although Hank is losing his words and sometimes forgets that Sue is his wife. For many who attend the lessons on the importance of respite are beginning to sink in, and our numbers are growing. Why do I spend my free time on the Memory Café? I do it for the memory of Dad, I do it for Mom, I do it for me.

 

Kate’s Memory Café is a free service offered at the offices of Helping Hands Respite Care once a month on the second Sunday (except when the date coincides with a major holiday). It is for those with a diagnosis of early to mid-stage Alzheimer’s or Dementia and their care partner. A care partner could be a spouse, a sibling, an adult child, or anyone else who has taken on the primary responsibility for care. The aim of the Memory Café is to offer both an understanding and appreciation for respite, and the tools to help the primary caregiver build a natural support team. The gathering includes socialization, live music, snacks and a meal, a fun activity and a brief educational opportunity for the care givers.  To learn more or to reserve a spot email : Katie@helpinghandsrespite.care

 

Frustrated Seniors with Alzheimer’s

Frustrated Senior with Alzheimer's. This photo represents the dynamic between a senior with Alzheimer's and the caregiver.

Helping Frustrated Seniors with Alzheimer’s

By Adult Day Services program supervisor, Alison Sarkozy
Our lives continue full speed ahead. We may have work and family responsibilities, household chores, church activities, neighborhood gatherings and friends that continue to call our attention. But for many primary family caregivers, the first responsibility is the loved one that they offer care and guidance to while some of their competencies slip away due to Alzheimer’s disease. Under these circumstances it may be harder and harder to keep up the pace of your former life.

Here are a few practical tips to reduce frustration for your loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease.

Schedule wisely – hopefully, this will make your time doing “xyz” a pleasant/productive experience. For example: if you know your loved one takes a nap at 1 pm every day, it’s best not to schedule a doctor appointment or a visit with friends during that rest time.
Let him/her help – letting a loved one take part in what you are doing makes them feel useful. For example: Preparing for dinner. Have them help retrieve ingredients or help set the table. The task might have to be broken down into simple steps.
Limit choices – having fewer options makes deciding easier. For example: Asking him/her to get dressed. Place two shirts and two pairs of pants out for them to change into. They still have the option to choose what they want to wear and feel some sense of control. Also, it might speed up the process of getting ready in the morning.
Take more time – Expect things to take longer than they used to. Also, try to do things in a routine fashion. This can help with limiting frustrations.
Try to be flexible –  If your loved one is exhibiting frustration, redirection can be helpful. Maybe even try a hug and change the subject. If you both are getting worked up, it sometimes is a good choice to drop it and try again later.
You too, as the caregiver, may be experiencing frustration. Our best advice is to breathe deeply, slow down, and really treasure the time that you have with the one you love. They are still there…don’t let your busy life overshadow them.