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Should dementia patients have a phone? My answer is Yes………..and No!

Elderly man sitting on couch with a smartphone up to his ear

Because – – it depends!

I know, I know. You hate answers like that. But, to me, it depends upon where your loved one is in the dementia journey. And, are we talking about a landline phone or a cell phone?

This post is my 12th out of 19 suggestions for what to do when you learn that your loved one has mild cognitive impairment or dementia and that is to turn down (or off) the ringer on the house phone if your loved one tends to answer the phone.

You can see the other 18 suggestions by signing up for the list below.

Reasons why Dementia patients should have a phone

Well first of all, dementia patients still have a life and they still want contact with friends so you want them to have that freedom.

They also will want to contact family members and take calls from family members.

And let’s not forget that if they are still in the right frame of mind, they may need to contact 9-1-1 for medical help.

My mom had a cell phone and there for a while she knew how to access her contacts in order to reach me and my brothers. When we updated her phone, we got her one that was still pretty basic – it was still a flip phone – and had a button for 9-1-1. As she lost more of her memory, using the phone became harder and harder. The cognitive ability to go through the contact list to get to the right phone number just wasn’t there. 

Mom had a list of phone numbers on the counter in the kitchen for her friends. The pictures below are of a “phone book” I made for her with the numbers and addresses of her kids and grandchildren.

three hole plastic binder with name, address and phone numbers on each page

Funny story – that 9-1-1 button? One time she had the phone out and I was trying to show her something on it, she pressed that button. Well, pretty soon I heard this knock on the front door and there were 2 policemen! They said they had gotten a 9-1-1 call from this residence and were responding to check that out. I explained about Mom and the phone and had to bring them in to talk with her and verify she was ok.

It wasn’t too much longer after that incident before we decided to end her cell phone service. If she couldn’t figure out how to get to the contact list and to initiate a call or how to answer a call, then why pay for the service.

Elderly man sitting on couch with a cell phone to his ear

Reasons why dementia patients should not have a phone

Elder Fraud

The elderly are easily targeted victims. According to the FBI.gov website, here are the most common scams on our older population.

  • Romance Scam

  • Tech Support Scam

  • Grandparent Scam

  • Government Impersonation Scam

  • Sweepstakes/Charity/Lottery Scam

  • Home Repair Scam

  • TV/Radio Scam

  • Family/caregiver Scam

Missed Messages, Miscommunication or Forgotten Messages

In my case, I moved back home to live with my mom and be her caregiver when her memory got worse. To find out more about that see this post. People had either my cell phone number or the home number to reach me. There were several occasions where I wasn’t home and Mom took a message for me that ended up not being correct.

Mistakes in conversations even occurred when my brothers would call and talk with her. Mom did the best she could but after the fact, details needed to be double checked!

Robocalls

Even though the landline phone number was on the Do Not Call registry, we would still get those annoying warranty calls or the calls about the computer operating system going bad or this, that, and the other association needing money.

If Mom did answer the phone, I was concerned that she might be roped into a scam. Read on to see what I did.

So, Should dementia patients have a phone?

Yes.

If you still have a landline phone you can do what I did to lower the risk of the fraud possibility.

I took the phone extension out of Mom’s bedroom leaving one in the kitchen and one in the living room. These were the 2 places where Mom would hang out. Then, I turned the ringer off on those 2 phones. Since Mom’s bedroom was downstairs and mine was upstairs, there really wasn’t any reason for her to go upstairs. On the phone extension upstairs, I turned the ringer down very low and changed it so that the answering machine would come on after 1 or 2 rings.

Eventually, it may get to the point where your loved one won’t be able to figure out how to use a phone anymore and you won’t have this issue.

Until then, take precautions and use your judgement.

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Take these tips and put them into place to make your life as a caregiver go more smoothly.