Telephone Tactics
Tricks of the Trade

*Resident names and any identifying details have been changed for privacy.

May 15, 2020

I haven't seen or heard this suggestion anywhere else, and I'm not sure why because it is SO effective and SO helpful!

"I don't know who he is," she confided tearfully. "He says he's my husband, but he's not."

One of the major reasons Annabelle moved to our memory center was because she often did not recognize her husband – and she was terrified of the strange man in her bed.

She was nervous and difficult to console in general. Her security was in her relationship with her husband, but because he had "disappeared" from her life, he wasn't able to help her feel better. And, suffice to say she needed him more than ever now that she had this strange man following her around!

"Excuse me, please. You have a phone call."

  -- Me, hundreds of times, to people with dementia

Most of those times, the person calling would be... me. 

I would walk the resident to the phone and tell them I would transfer their call – that they should pick up when it rang. I would dial the line from the next room and when they would answer I would say, "Hello, this is Laura from [the care facility]". I'm calling today to conduct a satisfaction survey. Do you have a minute for a couple of questions?"

From here, the conversation would go a couple different ways, depending on how the resident answered.

1. They would decline and hang up the phone. 


Whatever situation I had needed to divert them from (usually getting upset and heated with another resident) would be in the past. If need be, I would swing by right after they hung up with a well-timed cup of coffee, a book of meaningful pictures, or other diversion to really help get them focused in a better direction.

2. Sometimes they would agree to answer my questions.

The questions were generally along the lines of:

- How are you doing today?

- Are you happy with the food?

- Do you have any concerns or suggestions for improvements?

The answer would then either be that everything was fine -or- they would tell me how they were actually feeling.

Either way - Success! 

If they said they were fine, nine times out of ten they would seem fine, even when they had previously been upset.

Or, they would actually tell me what was bothering them or share their opinion… Double SUCCESS!! 

It is SO important for people to get to express how they feel

AND for their opinions to be heard and valued. Any opportunity for this is therapeutic! 

Most of the time, after expressing themselves, they felt better.

People with Dementia Believe Everything They Hear on the Phone

Okay, this may be a bit of an overstatement – I'm sure there are people who don't... but I haven't encountered them yet. I have, on the other hand, been astounded at times at what people will believe!

(Perhaps this is why telephone scams are such a problem? Be sure to protect our loved ones from telephone scam artists!)

An excerpt from Hilltop Heights Home for the Memory Impaired

Marilyn was on a roll. She was tired, but too restless to sleep. She wanted to go “home”, to a state where she felt secure and comfortable. “I'll take you home as soon as the bus arrives,” I promised, knowing that if she would only lie down for an hour's nap, she would be “home” again. However, Marilyn was not in the mood to wait for any bus today.

“I don't need you to take me home. I can go by myself!” she shouted. “Now, get me out of here! My husband's waiting for me!”

Of course, reminding her that her husband had been dead a decade wouldn't help her feel better at all. I knew that her husband had been a photographer, and that Marilyn had been very proud of him for it. A little detail can go a long way in reality sculpting. “Your husband is at a photographer's convention out of town. He'll be back tomorrow.”
“Well, great,” Marilyn was irritated now, but at least the anger in her voice had subsided, “that's just great. Now how am I supposed to get home? Oh how do I get myself into these messes?”
“Your husband wants you to stay here until he picks you up tomorrow.”
“Where is my husband?”
“He is out of town, at a photographer's convention,” I reminded her patiently.
“Oh, great,” she scowled. “Oh, I never should have come here. I'm too old to be traveling. Well, that's it. I'm going home!”
“Your husband wants you to sleep here tonight. He's supposed to pick you up here tomorrow,” I tried again, although it was beginning to dawn on me that this particular approach wasn't getting us anywhere.
Marilyn's reaction confirmed my suspicions. “Get me out of here!” her voice grew louder with her frustration.
“Okay...... No problem... let's just... I'll just...” I fumbled for something to say, while I desperately scraped together a new plan. Okay, got it. “I'll just go get the car started.”  
I slipped around the corner and into the office. I dialed the number of the community telephone and asked to speak to Marilyn.  
“Hello, Mrs. Moon. I'm calling from the hotel in Portland. Your husband asked me to call you.” I had my fingers crossed, hoping she would not question my very thin story. I needn't have worried.
“My husband asked me to call you?” Marilyn was simply echoing the phrase as she struggled to comprehend. “Where is my husband?”
“He is at a meeting. He asked me to call you and tell you that he will be there to pick you up tomorrow.”
“He will pick me up tomorrow?” She began to understand.
“Yes. He said you should stay where you are. He will pick you up tomorrow.”
Marilyn mulled this over for a moment. “Well, maybe I can stay here until tomorrow... Do I have a room here?”
“Yes... Ask one of the girls to show you where your room is.”
I heard muffled voices as Marilyn turned and asked the aide next to her about her room. The aide took Marilyn to her room, where she finally lay down to take a nap. 
 “Oh how do I get myself into these messes?” Marilyn mumbled as she drifted into slumber. “I'm too old... to be.. traveling.. like... this..”

And for Annabelle?

We figured out that even when she didn't recognize her husband's face, she could still recognize his voice. It was enormously helpful to her to be able to connect with him and be consoled by him over the phone. 

The telephone can be an amazing tool in helping people with dementia! 

It makes an amazing redirection, it can help people feel heard, validated and valued, and it can bring comfort and security. It's cheap, it's easy, it works.

Give it a try and share your questions or experience at the ABC Dementia's Facebook page.

TeleCalm Call Blocker

I haven't had the opportunity to try this call blocker, but it looks amazing! if it works as it says it does I can think of a dozen people right off the bat who could benefit from a gadget like this!