Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Leave Your Message At The Beep

As mom's abilities have been declining, so has her ability to use the phone properly. Looking back, I can see it's been a gradual decline. It started with her not responding or becoming distracted while we were talking with her. For a time, she was answering the phone with aggravation in her voice, "What?" We had to prompt her to say good-bye at the end of our phone conversations. Most of these behaviors were before her diagnosis and we would get very irritated with her rudeness and lack of manners on the phone. It has only gotten worse since then, although rather than being irritated, we have accepted it as a part of her disease and try to find the humor in it instead.

When answering the phone, she is often confused at who she is talking to; especially when it is a solicitor. That can actually be quite amusing to hear. She usually won't answer the phone if she doesn't recognize the phone on the Caller ID. A couple of months ago, a phone call went ignored when she didn't recognize the name "Margarett Reid." Mom seemed to forget that my Aunt Peggy's 'real' name is Margarett (this is her sister-in-law).

Lately, she doesn't answer the phone when I call. I would say that nearly 90% of my calls go to their answering machine (unless my dad is home, of course). I don't know if this is because she is not recognizing the ringing sound (although she will still answer on occasion) or if she is too engrossed in her computer games to hear the call or want to bother with it. Sometimes I will start to talk on the machine,

"Mom, it's me. Cassandra. Answer the phone."

I'll wait a minute or so to see if she answers; she never does.

I have to admit that many times when my mom leaves messages on my answering machine, I am chuckling by the end of the message. With this disease, you have to develop a sense of humor, or you will never survive. I get my daily dose of humor whenever I hear a voicemail from mom. Many times, she sounds so irritated that I'm not there; I just have to laugh (for some reason she thinks that, with 5 kids, I just sit at the home by the phone all day!) She never has a greeting or farewell-this goes for phone calls as well as messages.

A couple of months ago, my dad went to Florida to help my brother move to Arizona and we were taking care of mom while he was gone. Mom got wind (from her sister Claudia) that we were planning to spend the night at her house and I came home from running some errands to hear a very angry message from my mom,

"Only mom," she took a short pause, "just calling to tell you I don't want anyone spending the night here, that's what Claudia said. No! No!" [Click]. I probably listened to that message 5 times, laughing so hard I nearly peed my pants. If you could hear the message, you'd understand why.

Yesterday, my sister called me giggling and relating that she checked her voicemail to hear one sentence from my mom.

"Oh you're not home, I was hoping you could bless me." [click]

We laughed together as I explained to my sister that mom had called me earlier that day as well. She wanted me to "bless" her by taking her to Wal-mart. When I told her I was in the middle of making dinner and had somewhere to be afterwards, she apparently called my sister.

Today, I came home from the park to find another message from mom.

"Cassandra it's your mom because your dad said to tell you, uh to call, um, to make my head-headache, my headache med- I mean" (there was a little bit of garble that I couldn't make sense of "darn it, to make my haircut thing with that girl too...[a little more garble] have her phone number but not severely early or whatever but I don't know if she's there on Wednesday or not but I don't know but maybe you could call to find out to go tomorrow or Friday or I'd like to go quicklier on Saturday. I haven't gone for a haircut since November, I need one so do that please." [click]

(On a side note, "that girl" is named Crystal and she's been doing her hair for about 20 years now). This message wasn't quite as funny as some in the past. She was clearly struggling to find the right words to communicate; she was stammering and stuttering and at some points it was hard to make out what she was saying. Hearing her struggle to communicate what she wanted made my heart a little sad.

At some point I am sure she will lose the ability to use the phone altogether. I've seen a major decline just in the past few months. Of course this is a concern as it gets harder and harder to get ahold of her when we try to call. Sometimes I get a little worried when she doesn't answer since she still is home alone part of the time (we're working on arrangements for that). But...we just take it one day at a time!


  1. Humor is a must, you are absolutely right. It adds a sweetness, and a sense of compassion for this person that is still inside her head somewhere. The acceptance and understanding of dementia is key to the tolerance. To not take things personal, and to not lose patience. Taking breaks is also a part of it. Lord knows you may find yourself going crazy if you don't.
    Your doing an awesome job.

  2. Hi Cassandra,

    I sent you an email through your contact info on site but haven't heard back from you. I'm an editor with a website called Real Intent. We'd like to have you do a post about dementia for a series we're posting in a few weeks. I understand if you don't want to, but want to be sure you get the message that we'd like to include you. Your blog is a great resource and support for families dealing with dementia in a loved one - which is why we'd like you to participate. Thanks for considering and good luck with your Mom. -Jen

    1. Hi Jen, I'm not sure what happened, but I never received an email...I double checked and there isn't anything there. Hopefully you get this message; I am interested in hearing more about it :). You can email me at: