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.


Rosenzweig, A. (2017, May 26). Perseveration in Alzheimer’s and Other Dementia: Getting Stuck. Retrieved from

The Alzheimer’s Association. (2017). Repetition and Alzheimer’s. Retrieved from
The Care Support Services. (2012, January 8). Repetitive behaviors and the frustration they present to the dementia caregiver. Retrieved from

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 :


10 Things a Person Living with Dementia Would Tell You If They Could

Two ladies exploring volunteer opportunities

Dotty’s Ten Tips for Communicating with a Person Living with Dementia

Here are ten tips you can use to improve your life and the life of an individual living with dementia.

1. You know what makes me feel safe, secure, and happy? A smile.
2. Did you ever consider this? When you get tense and uptight it makes me feel tense and uptight.
3. Instead of getting all bent out of shape when I do something that seems perfectly normal to me, and perfectly nutty to you, why not just smile at me? It will take the edge off the situation all the way around.
4. Please try to understand and remember it is my short term memory, my right now memory, that is gone. Don’t talk so fast, or use so many words.
5. You know what I am going to say if you go off into long winded explanations on why we should do something? I am going to say No, because I can never be certain if you are asking me to do something I like, or drink a bottle of Castor oil. So I’ll just say No to be safe.
6. Slow down. And don’t sneak up on me and start talking. Did I tell you I like smiles?
7. Make sure you have my attention before you start blabbering away. What is going to happen if you start blabbering away and you don’t have my attention, or confuse me? I am going to say No – count on it.
8. My attention span and ability to pay attention are not as good as they once were, please make eye contact with me before you start talking. A nice smile always gets my attention. Did I mention that before?
9. Sometimes you talk to me like I am a child or an idiot. How would you like it if I did that to you? Go to your room and think about this. Don’t come back and tell me you are sorry, I won’t know what you are talking about. Just stop doing it and we will get along very well, and probably better than you think.
10. You talk too much, instead try taking my hand and leading the way. I need a guide not a person to nag me all the time.

Source: Alzheimer’s Reading Room

For more information on caring for an individual who is living with dementia or Alzheimer’s, please contact our Adult Day Services Program Director, Alison,