Dementia, Assistive Technology, and the Telephone Search

As Mother’s dementia progressed, her ability to do basic tasks, the activities of daily living, decreased. Using the telephone, a critical communication activity, was increasingly difficult. Thus we were always on the lookout for a phone that required her to do less but enabled her to communicate and hear more.

Over time she progressed from the regular phones, some wireless and others with old-fashioned rotary dials (what she knew best), to a phone that had amplification and big buttons, and finally to a phone with our pictures on large pre-programmed auto-dial buttons. During the last two years, as Mother forgot how to dial numbers — first the ten digit kind and later the seven digit — we found a picture phone to be especially helpful.

A picture of my husband and me and a separate picture of each of us were on buttons programmed to call home and our offices. Our daughter’s photo was on another button. A picture of a cell phone sent calls to my mobile phone. Images of Mother’s doctor, one of her brother and sister-in-law, and several that depicted places in the retirement community rounded out her auto-dial images.

In the beginning Mother could use all of the programmed buttons, but over time she used fewer of them. Eventually she could not even connect the picture to the button to the concept of pressing the button. By the last six months of her life, mother could not talk on the phone. Even if we held the phone to her ear she had trouble knowing what to do.

However, the picture telephone extended by a year or so the time that Mother was able to use a phone and communicate with her family and friends, making a substantial difference in the quality of her life.

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