Prior to moving Mom into assisted living, I spent loads of time coordinating her life. Job number one was keeping her safe but the rest of it was all about setting her up for success on a given day– in spite of her dementia.
As much as possible, I was removing potential triggers that cause Mom to get frazzled, frustrated, or feeling depressed by her condition. It was time consuming, exhausting, worrisome–and at times, frustrating.
When Mom moved to assisted living I assumed we were done with all of that. Less time coordinating and more time just being with Mom–and less frustration. I was mostly right.
The general emotional toll of her declining dementia and my fear of her being isolated and lonely aside, the last and most acute source of frustration is….her cell phone. What a pain in the a$%. I’m still learning how to deal with it.
She Loves It, But It Doesn’t Love Her
Mom loves her phone but she can’t use it. She’s just not able to operate it. Even prior to her dementia, the switch from a flip phone to a smart phone was bad for her. She never got it.
You have better odds of getting struck by lighting than having her answer your call. Leaving a voicemail is fruitless. The kicker is that once the battery dies, the phone is dead for days because she can’t find the charger or she can find it but can’t plug it in. Yet through all of this, if I so much as lay a finger on her phone it’s instantaneous: “Matt, what are you doing with my phone?”. Even if her back is turned, she can sense it. It’s truly a sixth sense.
The phone frustration first reared its head with Mom’s refusal to use the landline in her room. Living a couple of hours away, it was unsettling to not be able to get in touch with her. The only solution was calling and calling and calling–until she picked up. Or calling the front desk and asking them to check on her, which i didn’t want to do regularly.
We were thankfully able to get over the hump with some creative land-line orientation. I spent an hour with Mom on one visit calling her landline and ‘training’ her to answer it. It was one of those surreal experiences where I realized just far her dementia had progressed. It worked and now I don’t have to worry about falling out of touch for a day or two or three at a time (knock on wood).
The phone frustration has since been downgraded to mild irritation. It’s not stressful like being out of touch but it drives me batty just the same. The questions about the phone don’t stop. They. Never. Stop.
Remember Tupperware Parties?
Have you ever had a friend who worked for a multi-level marketing company selling Tupperware or clothes or skin care products? You love your friend and want to talk with them but don’t want to talk about their face lotion or go to their party to view the ‘new spring line’ (again)? It’s that kind of annoyance. I want to talk with Mom (of course!) but don’t want to hear the word ‘phone’. Maybe I’m a bad son for feeling this way but I’m not taking it back.
We speak at least once a day and usually twice. We talk about random everyday stuff. In addition to telling her what’s going on with Lindsay and the kids I’m asking the usual questions: How was your night? How’d you sleep? What are you doing today? How are you feeling? Is there anything you need? Inevitably, what Mom needs… is help with her phone. “My phone won’t charge”, “My phone doesn’t work when I answer it”, “I can’t hear it ring”.
I respond similarly each time with a combination of pacification and honesty. “Don’t worry Mom, I’ll look at it on Wednesday when I’m there”. “Don’t worry about it Mom, you don’t use it much anyway”. “Don’t worry about it Mom, your friends call your landline when they want to talk”. In the grand scheme, it’s really not a big deal but the repetition of it drives me nutty.
Cell Phone Vs. Car
When I told Mom she could no longer drive, I knew it had to happen and I stressed over it for a week. I sought advice from her doctor and friends at a support group on how to approach the conversation. I finally got the courage up and talked with her about it. I made it clear I wasn’t asking and that this was how it was going to be. We had a good cry but she didn’t fight it. She didn’t fight because she knew it was no longer safe for her to drive. My stress was unnecessary and I was thankful.
I’ve tried to get rid of the phone without success. It’s just not worth the fight. I wouldn’t have imagined she’d hold on tighter to her cell phone than she would to her car and the independence that came with it. But I like to think it’s because she knows she’s can’t hurt herself or anyone else with the cell phone, and it gives her a little feeling of independence. When I think about it that way, it actually makes me smile (sometimes).
For that, I’ll deal with the never ending cell phone questions. So (on the landline) we talk about her smartphone every day. Just like you buy your friend’s Tupperware or clothes or face lotion.
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