Saturday, April 5, 2008

Everybody’s Talking

I visited my sister-in-law in the hospital yesterday. I left her room and outside the door a lady sat on a bench, cell phone to her ear carrying on a lively conversation. Around the corner through a patient’s open door, I saw an elderly woman’s visitor talking into her cell phone. About half the people you see in Wal-Mart are talking on cell phones. With more than 219 million active cell phones in the United States, that’s a lot of conversation.

Cell phones are everywhere. Ringtones interrupt sermons, speeches, training, work, corporate board meetings, live theatre, movies, and funerals as people forget to turn off their electronic devices. I was at a conference one time where the announcement was made, “If your cell phone rings, you pay $5.” The speaker was the first person to pay.

Cell phone plans provide an economical way to stay in touch with family and friends. With free nights and weekends it is easier to communicate with everyone you love.

When you talk to someone with Alzheimer’s, phone conversations can be deceptive. Often people with dementia continue to carry on polite conversation and give yes and no answers. It is frustrating for caregivers and family who live close by when the long distance relatives say, “Dad sounds fine to me. I think you are overreacting.”

Early in Jim’s disease, he always forgot to relay phone messages, so we installed caller ID. When he talked on the phone, he could make polite conversation. Even people who knew him well might not notice anything strange about his conversation. He interjected “I’m just fine,” “You don’t say?” and other polite phrases at appropriate intervals. After he hung up the phone, I would ask who he had been talking to, and his response was usually, “I have no idea” or “You know them.”

Our satellite TV account was in Jim’s name, and they called constantly with offers to upgrade our package. Jim always said yes, and when I called to cancel the expensive channels, they didn’t want to talk to me. Jim died three years ago, and I still can’t get his name off the account but they finally added mine.

I frequently receive phone calls offering me truck driving jobs. Just a few days ago an upbeat male voice said, “We just reviewed your resume and have an excellent truck driving job for you.” I did not submit a resume, but I am listed in the city directory with an occupation of driver. I’m pretty sure that information came from Jim, because after he could no longer drive, he referred to me as his “driver.”

While I worked on my blog post today, I received a phone call from Karen Waterhouse who plans to submit a story for the Early Onset Project. Karen has benefited from a combination of traditional medical treatment and a combination of herbs. She told me about the 22nd Annual Alzheimer’s and Related Dementia Wisconsin State Conference she will be attending in May.

Karen called because she could not find my email address. Just as we ended our conversation, she said, “I have a plan on my cell phone so it doesn’t cost me to call on weekends.”

To hear Karen’s voice, feel her energy and optimism, made my day. I’m so thankful that I have gotten to know so many people with early onset dementia. These personal friends keep me motivated to continue advocating for a cure for Alzheimer’s in a way that statistics never could.

The ability to communicate with family and friends needs to be weighed against the cacophony of disruptive ringing cell phones. So, if I walk past you in Wal-Mart with my cell phone to my ear, I just might be involved in an important conversation.
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