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How can we get our mother to stop calling us multiple times a day?

12 answers | Last updated: Oct 12, 2015
Not2Zen asked...

My father died a year ago August and my mom is now living in their Assisted Living apartment. Although she has always been a very controlling and manipulative person, along with constant anxiety, she has taken all of that to a new level. All that combined with a fairly advanced stage of dementia and the family is at their wits end. She uses her telephone constantly, calling each of us 10-20 times a day, sometimes a few minutes apart. She can't hear well and also often doesn't know who she has called so there is a lot of emotion tied up in a simple 'hello' telephone call - but usually she is calling to tell us what is bothering her and we "have to do something about it right now". Aside from taking away her telephone, we really don't know how to handle this anymore. And it is tearing apart my siblings, as they don't all see and talk to the same 'mother with dementia'. Any suggestions. We are in the process of having her moved to a more secure unit, no longer in the assisted living area, but she will really fight that move too, as will one of the siblings.


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Joanne Koenig Coste answered...

This must be so so stressful for you. I feel distressed just reading about your dilemma but to live with your mother calling multiple times a days and her ongoing See also:
Does my husband have symptoms of dementia?
manipulation seems overwhelming. It sounds as if you are also having to deal with other family dynamics without everyone on the same page.

My immediate reaction is the same as fellow-responder Elaine who suggests using caller ID and screening your calls. From years of experience, I can report this works exceedingly well. In many cases the behavior has actually been reversed after a number of calls have been placed with only an answering machine to respond.

Do not expect her 'controlling and manipulative' personality to be any different with Dementia than it was before the cognitive changes occurred and chances are the anxiety will also remain; you may actually see an exagerration of her former personality traits.

The diagnosis of a dementing neurological process leaves her incapable of controlling many of her actions. If she is not able to be in control, then you and your siblings need to be in charge and to act accordingly. This role-reversal is difficult at best but take heart because it may be short lived once you begin monitoring the phone calls. The fact that she is being moved to a more secure unit certainly underscores the staff agreeing with your assessment; the dementia is progressing and her skills are failing. There is a distinct possibility that phones will not be allowed in her new residence. Hopefully, she will also be kept busier with activities and enrichment programs and have less time to be making phone calls. It is often boredom and not need that leads to this kind of repetitive behavior. Keeping the person with dementia occupied frequently negates the aberrant behavior.

Meanwhile you need to save your own sanity by not allowing her to still have control over your life. Do take care of you!


More Answers
ElaineS answered...

Not2zen, This may sound cold but get caller ID and screen your calls. That way when you take her calls you will be better able to deal with her, more patient and calm. As long as the facility she is in is alert enough to her needs and she is safe a few calm calls is better than 20 frazzeled ones. Just my 2 cents. Elaine


Snowbirds answered...

I had to give my mom a phone but only gave her local calling and we are not local. I had no choice as I was working at the time and she would have called every few minutes. she wants long distance but she can't figure out how to do it and I made her a deal if she could get it, she can have it. she won't even try though. face that later. we are rvers and travel the country but she is in a home where she is safe. had to realize I could not take care of her long ago but I do know she is well cared for.


hilarytcmn answered...

We are having the same problem and I agree 100% that you have to lessen your own stress by screening the calls. My Mom calls and leaves a voice mail that says she is missing something; and then calls back to say she has found it. This happens over and over. I make a conscious choice to only pick up her calls one or two times a day, as whatever her 'emergency' is often resolves itself before I could possibly help. Also, she cannot dial well and we received a phone bill with over 50 long distance misdials. By looking at the number combinations, we could see she was attempting to make a local call to one of her children and misdials. We ended up taking away her long distance capabilities. I can only imagine what the people that picked up those phone calls thought! I have also turned off my phone or forwarded by landline to my cell phone and put it on vibrate to prevent the intrusiveness of of the phone ringing all day long. That way she can leave a message and relieve some anxiety, but we don't have to listen to the ringing!


Breannal answered...

My mom calls every phone # that she knows numerous times a day. She doesn't care if she wakes people up 4:30 in the morning. She will call my # & work # . If you do not answer she usually calls back every 5 minutes unless she luckily reaches someone else to talk to. Some of my family members have blocked her phone # & will call her off & on. Others have taken the ringer off. Some of us have even got to the point that we do not answer the phone & will check messages. When she does not have access to long distance, she will call friends or family members collect numerous times even the ones who already called her during the day. Sometimes she has even called another # in my work to tell them that she was in the hospital & had to reach me.


dougster answered...

it's a problem for sure. My wife's mother has Alzheimers, and took to calling me constantly because she saw me as capable. Despite the fact that she has 3 children, she wanted me to help, immediately on any number of concerns, mostly non-critical issues. I finally started letting them go to voicemail, and answering after she had calmed down or forgotten what had gotten her so upset. More often than not, she would quickly forget what had gotten her riled.


iamjackiej answered...

This is so helpful to read. My boyfriend's mother is in her mid-stage of dementia and has good days and bad days. She has four children, all living within an hour of her, BUT their phones are long distance. With that said, she calls me numerous times a day. I feel very guilty when I don't answer her calls but find myself saying the same thing to her each time. After reading this I feel comfortable knowing it's ok to not answer each time she calls. She is living in an assisted living facility and is taken care of but I know she's lonely and wants her family to always be there with her. I feel bad for her and put myself in her shoes often and it makes me so sad. This is a terrible, terrible disease! Thanks again!


Frustrated NC answered...

I wish my mother would call me! She just lays in the bed while her boyfriend "takes care" of her- he gives her pain meds that she doesn't need while he watches TV or takes her car off somewhere. She says he makes her meals but she has lost 20 pounds. They are both against any help. I visited during Christmas holidays and she kept feeling nauseous. I told her she should eat when she takes her meds. She said her boyfriend is taking care of her and I need to leave her alone. He goes with her to the doctor and doesn't want my sister or I to go so we really don't know how she is doing. He cant remember much more than she can. I live out if town and have called the Dr with no response. I am getting so frustrated! She and I were very close but now I know she will forget me sooner because her boyfriend controls her! She told me the other day she didn't know what she would do without him!


Smeegle answered...

I have considered using the option of cutting off her phone access during normal sleeping hours to stop the night-time calls. The daytime calls I can ignore, though she rolls through her address book during any down time and calls everyone repeatedly. I have tried to tell relatives (who probably think I am being cold) to monitor calls and only answer when they have time and want to speak to her. Calls can be 5 minutes apart with no memory of the previous call. She lives in an active Assisted Living facility and as long as she is engaged in activities, she's fine. But boredom at night is unbearable for her. She's happy where she's at and her calls are almost always positive, just overwhelming.


Rakshita answered...

My sister called me 9 times today, but she calls her kids like 30 times a day. The conversation is always the same-- she has no food, she's afraid to wash her hair, she's lonely, her son was cruel to her. I try to set boundaries by promising to call her every other day. When she completely rejects that plan, I explain that my husband has congestive heart failure, so I'm busy to the max with home management, caregiving, and his appointmemts. Her response was that she thinks her phone calls should have priority over my personal schedule. She really shows no regard or mercy for the very few relatives who still talk to her at all. Today when I told her I needed to hang up after talking 20 minutes, she said she just wanted to jump out the window and die. After our talks, it's not easy for me get over her emotional intensity. The discussion above is quite helpful. Thx.