My mom won't admit to having memory problems. How can I handle this?

2 answers | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother has a tendency to answer her phone and not asking who she is talking to.  The other day she made an appointment for someone to come about her air conditioner and didn't write down who called and the phone number. She only wrote down the appointment time.  To this day, I have no idea who called.  How should I handle this without actually restricting her from using the phone?  She also suffers from macular degeneration which doesn't help when she can't read the Caller ID.  She won't admit to having trouble remembering things. She just thinks she's going crazy.  Help!!!

Expert Answers

Lisa P. Gwyther, a social worker specializing in Alzheimer's services, is the author of The Alzheimer's Action Plan. An associate professor in the Duke University Medical Center Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, she's also a past president of the Gerontological Society of America.

Your mother illustrates the complexity of age-related conditions and risks.  It's not just her forgetting, but it's also her vision affecting her phone use.  I bet it frustrates her, you ,and her callers. But her phone is too important a connection for her to give up, especially if she lives alone. It may be more scary for her to think she is going crazy than to learn she may have a disease causing her memory difficulty, but that's a question for another day.

I assume you have her on all available DO NOT CALL lists.  Is she able to call or recite your phone number?  If so, would she accept a dignified suggestion to her to refer all callers re: appointments and dates to her daughter saying something like, "My daughter keeps my calendar because my vision makes it hard for me to write in small calendar spaces."  Try large print signs above the phone with similarly worded reminders, even brief reminders like, "WHO IS CALLING, PLEASE?" Many people who forget can read a sign even when they're unable to follow the direction. She'll probably find it more acceptable to blame it on her small-print vision than on her memory or thinking, though.

If she has an answering machine, suggest she NOT erase messages. You can check and delete them remotely as necessary.  You don't want her to just let the machine take all her calls because you want her to answer when you call.  However, you might suggest that when she is too tired or overwhelmed, she should just let the machine pick up the call.  She can always call you later to let you know that she thinks she missed calls, and you can check them remotely.  It's a delicate dance to insure her privacy, social connections and safety, but it's worth experimenting until you find the best ways to keep her connected while safe from unscrupulous callers.  

Community Answers

Nurselawyer answered...

You can't keep your mother safe from unscrupulous callers unless you step up the vigilance. These professional predators love people with memory loss.  They prey on people who forget.  They make "friends" with the senior, establish a "relationship" and then move in for the snatch of the money, credit card, etc.  I recommend that she let the answering machine pick up the calls. Letting her be exposed to danger every day is not better than letting her socialize freely and forget whom she is letting into her home.   You need to monitor her.  In addition, if she is as forgetful and vision impaired as you say, I truly hope she has given  your the power of attorney for finances.  If she hasn't, it is definitely time to take care of this before a disaster around money happens.  Carolyn L. Rosenblatt, R.N., B.S.N., Attorney at Law,