What Can You Do When an Aging Parent Isn’t Answering the Phone?

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Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

When your aging parent isn’t answering the phone, it can be annoying, frustrating, and worrying. It’s easy to blame your parents for not taking the time to respond to your concerned phone calls and wonder what you can do about it. If you’re a long-distance caregiver, this problem can be particularly vexing since you can’t drop by to check on how your parent is doing. 

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Several reasons could be contributing to the problem of your parent not answering the phone, and we’ll cover the most likely ones. As a concerned family member, you need to check on your parent, and calling is often the most convenient way to do that. However, there are other ways to monitor your parent’s wellbeing if you can’t problem-solve any issues with the phone. 

Should You Be Concerned That Your Parent Isn’t Answering the Phone?

You are, of course, rightly concerned if your parent isn’t answering their phone and they live alone. Over time, however, if you keep calling and they don’t answer only to find out they are fine, you may start to worry less and become more annoyed. You never know when that one time may be the one where they need help and can’t answer the phone. 

Why Might an Aging Parent Not Answer the Phone?

There are many reasons an aging parent may not answer the phone. It’s important to view their behavior in the context of the situation they are in, their personality style and cognitive function, and their familiarity with technology. We have some suggestions on how to solve this problem, but first, let’s look at some of the reasons they might not be answering the phone.

Your parent may not be able to get to the phone in time

It’s not uncommon for older people who have mobility problems to have difficulty reaching the phone before it stops ringing. They may not call back after they find they’ve missed a call if it takes too much effort. And to make getting to the phone even more challenging, older generations often don’t keep their phone close by.

Your parent may not recognize your number

Scam calls are increasing every day, and after a while, people get tired of answering the phone only to find out it’s a sales call. Even if your number is in their phone contacts, they may grow weary of getting up to answer the phone only to find out it isn’t someone they know. So they don’t answer when people call.

Your parent turns the phone off or doesn’t charge the phone

Believe it or not, this happens more than you might think. Your parent might turn off the phone to avoid annoying scam calls and forget to turn it back on. Or they might forget to charge the phone and not realize that it’s dead and can’t take calls.

Your parent may have some cognitive impairment

If your parent has cognitive impairment, they could struggle to manage any kind of phone. Keep in mind that even mild cognitive impairment can impede someone’s ability to use the phone. Your parent may forget where the phone is, forget to turn it on, or forget to charge it.  You might have to put some other systems in place to check on how your parent is doing. 

Your parent is being resistant

You may have heard the term “passive-aggressive,” which means that your parent may be trying to tell you something by not answering the phone. Perhaps your parent has been demanding, and you have placed some limits on communication, and this is how they express their displeasure. Or maybe there’s some other message they are trying to convey, and you don’t know what it is. Perhaps they want more visits from you and the rest of the family.

Tips for Getting Ahold of Your Aging Parent

There are some ways you can try to get ahold of your parents by phone, and they involve some investigative work. You might discover some problems that you can fix immediately. Trying to get ahold of your aging parent could take some trial and error, so try to be patient.

Convert from a landline to a cell phone

If your parent has a landline, they could be getting an unusual number of scam calls, even though these are possible with a cell phone, as well. A cell phone is also more portable, and your parent can take it with them everywhere; therefore, they may be more likely to answer it.

Check their phone contacts and settings

Make sure that the family numbers are in their contacts if it is a cell phone. Review charging instructions with them. If there are repeated scam calls from certain numbers, block those. Increase the number of rings for the phone so that your parent can get to the phone before the call drops. Monitoring their phone may take repeated efforts.

Schedule calls

Suggest to your parent that you schedule calls for a specific time and day. It might take some time to get used to this idea, but once they know when to expect your call, they might be more willing to answer. 

Try texting or another platform

Many older adults are capable of learning and using technology to their advantage. If your parent can learn to text or use Facetime, those could be exciting and preferable ways to stay in touch. Ask a grandchild or someone else to teach your parent, if you don’t have time. Learning new methods of staying in touch will take persistence and patience, but once your parent gets used to the idea, it could open up communication. 

How Can You Check on Your Parent If They Still Aren’t Answering the Phone?

If your parent still isn’t answering their phone, there are some alternative ways to stay in communication. Continuing to rely on the phone when it isn’t working could be a continual dead end, so try some of these other ideas instead. 

In-home caregiving

By hiring an in-home caregiver, even for a few hours a week, you will have another set of eyes and ears on the situation. The other advantage of in-home caregivers is that they can problem-solve phone issues, teach your parent how to use technology, and screen their calls. In-home caregivers can make reports to the family on your parent’s wellbeing and report any safety issues. 

Increase visits

If you live far away, this could be a challenge. If there are siblings or grandchildren nearby, however, you can ask them to visit more often. The more people you have visiting your parent’s home, the better. Few things can take the place of observing your parent’s situation which allows you to evaluate their needs firsthand. Even visits from friends, neighbors, and clergy can be a help.

Get an emergency response system (ERS)

An emergency response system is a watch or pendant device that can detect falls and make automatic calls to emergency personnel. This can be a big relief. But many older adults have difficulty wearing them. However, if your parent wears one, you can have some assurance that someone will be called if they’re ever in trouble.

Try to pick a device that your parent will be more likely to use. For some, this could be a watch-style ERS. Pendants can feel bulky and unattractive unless they’re hidden beneath clothes.

Safety monitoring systems

The number and types of safety monitoring systems for older adults can be overwhelming. There are motion and heat detectors, cameras, and more. For these devices to be effective, you’ll need to do your homework and find the system that fits your parent’s needs.  Some other considerations for home monitoring systems are the ease with which they can be used, and whether they require your parent to manage any aspect of the system. 

Consider two phones

Getting two phones only works if the problem is that one of your parents is the primary phone holder. For example, perhaps your father is the one who always has the phone with him, and your mother never seems to have the opportunity to answer calls. With two phones, you increase your chances of getting one of your parents to answer. 

Welfare check

A welfare check is not a 911 call and should be used only when you have a legitimate concern about your parent’s wellbeing. To request a welfare check, call your local police department, and you’ll be routed to the officers responsible for going to the home.

Anyone can request a welfare check, including a family member or concerned neighbor. What happens during a welfare check is at the discretion of the authorities who respond. If you have called your parent repeatedly with no response and have no other way to check on their wellbeing, this can be a good option. 

Geriatric care manager

If your parent is the type of person who needs privacy and is resistant to in-home care, a geriatric care manager could be an option. This professional can perform periodic checks on your parent, and they have the expertise to pick up on potential problems. A care manager will then report to you, and you can act to manage any issues.

Aging Parent Isn’t Answering the Phone

As frustrating as it is when your aging parent isn’t answering the phone, there are ways to cope with this situation. Follow our steps to improve your ability to monitor your parent’s health, wellbeing, and safety.

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