Mom could use the telephone up until the dementia took over and would drive me absolutely bonkers doing it! They had this very old fashioned rotary dial black phone (thing was so solid and heavy you could’ve hurt someone with it) on a stand in the kitchen with the yellow and white pages phone books underneath and this black personal phone book with all of the numbers of the children, friends, the car repair guy, and her beautician.
In the early stages of her descent she would call me up and ask me to look up a number for her in the phone book (this was before everything was online) and I would be totally exasperated. “Mom, why are you calling me to look up a number for you?” I would ask. And that is when the excuses would begin. Excuses like her phone book was out of date, she couldn’t find the number, the print is too little for her to read clearly, and of course the….”What? You can’t do this for your mother?” comment.
It drove me nuts but I didn’t think much of it other than how it was a pain in the rear to me; I really didn’t try to do something, anything about it.
Slowly it began to change and it wasn’t a good one and sadly I still didn’t quite know what was going on or what to do. She began to call me and say that there was some man outside in the yard and what should she do. Or that there was a strange man trying to break into the house would I call the police for her. Or that she didn’t know where daddy was and was in a slight panic.
Guess who the bad man was that was trying to break into the house, etc.? Yes, it was dad.
I knew each and every time it was dad who was outside trying to get in. Why was he trying to get in? It was because almost as soon as he would go outside to take out the trash or get something from the car or anything that involved him going outside, mom would lock the door not remembering he had stepped out. Sometimes he remembered to take his keys with him and sometimes he didn’t. It was when he didn’t that I got those calls from mom.
I would try and calm mom down while working slowly and painfully at getting her to understand that it wasn’t a strange man skulking around the place, it was her husband out there and that she had locked him out – again! This worked for awhile until the awful combo of dad’s health declining along with the dementia taking more of mom meant things were transitioning from annoying to dangerous.
I don’t recall how I finally convinced my parents to let me have a key to the house – they were both becoming more paranoid and increasingly withdrawn from the world – but thankfully I did because one night I got a phone call not from mom but from their neighbors across the street. Mom had locked him out again and he hobbled slowly and painfully across the street to ask them to call me. You see, dad had advancing diabetes (which had not been diagnosed yet) and the nerves in his lower legs were racing straight into permanent nerve damage. Poor dad must have been so embarrassed because he had been working his level best at keeping moms declining mental health a secret from everyone.
So I made the half hour drive from where I lived telling my family that I had to help dad/grandpa back into the house because he was locked out accidentally. Mom was all flustered when I opened the door to let me and dad in; I made sure that I made the announcement of “Hi mom, it’s me!” before I walked in because she was also beginning to become a bit violent sometimes in this stage of the disease.
After that time I think dad got the clue to always keep his keys on him. To help them with phone issues I bought them this big button phone and keyed in all of our numbers so that all they (by this time mainly dad) had to do was push #1 for me, #2 for my sister Eve, and so forth. When they both entered nursing homes that phone went with dad to his room.
It was a rough patch in the road of being a caregiver; just one of many more to come. And right now I wish there was a button I could press to hear their voices again on some device; their healthy not sick voices. I’ve only got one VCR tape somewhere, I hope, that has my parents on there talking to me and my sisters at a family dinner. It’s the only thing I have of them besides some photos.
Today there are videos on phones and other devices where you can capture your loved ones for posterity. You can carry those memories with you or have them on your computer or tablet. I highly recommend that you do because one day you will want to see and hear them again as they once were or to share them with family that never had the chance to know them.