How to block outgoing calls
March 6, 2014 10:41 AM   Subscribe

My Grandmother has dementia. She calls her old phone number 20+ times a day to ask for a ride home. Unfortunately, this number is now used by a business, the owner of which is not too pleased with the multiple phone calls a day.

My Mom tracked down an out-dated and not for-sure workable method of blocking outgoing calls from Verizon (which is the phone service my Grandmother has for her landline), which may or may not have worked - my Mom isn't sure, because the business owner threatened to take them to court if my Grandmother's phone wasn't cut, which my Mom panicked and did.

Now, my Grandmother is using the phone in the lobby of her building (she lives in an assisted living facility) to call the business' number. Ha ha! There's no stopping her, she really wants a ride home and doesn't remember calling or being told not to call.

A better solution seems to be to allow her to have a phone in her room, but block outgoing calls, especially to this business number. I've suggested trying the phone-block again, but my Mom is really worried about being sued by the business and may not want to try it.

Does something that will block outgoing calls to a specific number on a landline exist?

(It cannot be a cellphone solution, because she will never be able to learn how to use a cellphone, even a simple one.)
posted by backwords to Human Relations (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I agree with your solution--the phone in the room that blocks outgoing calls. Can the assisted living facility move the lobby phone?
posted by feste at 10:48 AM on March 6, 2014

Can your mom run this by a lawyer? Because "I'm going to sue an elderly woman with dementia because she calls my phone" seems a stretch and while it isn't an answer to the problem, it might help your mom with perspective on it.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:48 AM on March 6, 2014 [27 favorites]

Verizon has a "call-gate" feature that does exactly this.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:49 AM on March 6, 2014 [8 favorites]

I suspect that if grandma tries to call from her room and is unsuccessful, she'll just go to the lobby and keep calling from there.

Have you considered a large, laminated 8.5x11" piece of paper next to or on top of the phone? "xxx-555-1212" is no longer your number" or some such?

Also, the business owner should f*%& off! Can't he just say "okay, bye" and hang up?!!
If you were trying to run a business and got 20 calls a day from a demented old woman, you'd be understandably cranky.
posted by DWRoelands at 10:51 AM on March 6, 2014 [9 favorites]

Uh, can the business owner not block the incoming calls?
posted by jon1270 at 10:54 AM on March 6, 2014 [34 favorites]

(I mean, if Grandma had her own phone so she would call from a predictable number)
posted by jon1270 at 10:55 AM on March 6, 2014

I don't know, my mom had dementia, and she called endlessly, but I don't think she *could* understand to go to another phone. The impulse seemed more automatic than that. She could be distracted, but not reminded.
posted by feste at 10:56 AM on March 6, 2014

I don't think you are going to have a workable solution until the business, Verizon and the living center all work in concert. the "call-gate" mentioned above seems promising, but why not call Verizon and/or the business' provider and see what they suggest.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:59 AM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

This has been going on for awhile and my Mom has been talking to the office manager of the business (who is very nice and even went to visit my Grandmother) - the office manager tried to get the calls blocked, but their phone system is outdated so they cannot block calls and the business does not have enough money to upgrade their current system.

I am going to tell my Mom about the "call-gate" and see if that's what they tried, but what they tried sounded like it was a physical tool, not a call management service.
posted by backwords at 10:59 AM on March 6, 2014

(It cannot be a cellphone solution, because she will never be able to learn how to use a cellphone, even a simple one.)

If there was a cellphone solution, you can get fixed wireless terminals.
posted by zamboni at 11:00 AM on March 6, 2014

Can the assisted living facility move the phone so that residents have to ask to use it?
posted by radioamy at 11:08 AM on March 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

What cause of action, exactly, does the business owner think he has against a senile old lady? Tell him if he sues you're going to the local news.
posted by Dasein at 11:18 AM on March 6, 2014 [6 favorites]

They aren't all that cheap, but there are indeed devices that will block all outgoing calls from a conventional land-line phone. That site sell lots of assorted phone devices, if you call they might be able to recommend a device that will block just her old home phone number.

Of course, if your grandmother recognizes that her attempt to make an outgoing call from her phone is not going through, she might continue use the phone in the lobby.
posted by RichardP at 11:28 AM on March 6, 2014

Put a phone in her room that is only connected to a little computer. It should have a dial tone, let her dial, and then answer with some pre-recorded messages. Contact your local hackerspace for help making this.
posted by Sophont at 11:41 AM on March 6, 2014 [7 favorites]

Take at look at this phone which only allows incoming calls and seems to be designed for exactly your situation.
posted by davidvanb at 11:42 AM on March 6, 2014

Could you and your mom pay for an updating of the business owner's phone system so that he could block calls from the lobby phone number? That might be the easiest solution.

I assume giving her a nonworking phone (maybe an old landline model) won't cut it for her, so that she thinks she's calling but she's not? She actually wants to hear the ring/pickup?
posted by emjaybee at 11:43 AM on March 6, 2014

Crappy outdated phone system or no, the business owner should be taking steps to block grandma's calling. I can see where it would be bothersome to get the calls multiple times a day, but come on, he has to be more proactive in solving the problem on his end rather than saying "I caaaaan't block the calls so I'm going to sue the demented old lady." (If it was a stalker or threatening phone calls I'd be much more sympathetic! A demented old person calling for a ride home is just at PITA level.)

Business Owner and Office Manager need to get a device like what RichardP links to, or call their phone carrier, explain the problem, and get the phone carrier to block the calls or at least come up with a suggestion. Business Owner should not just fob the problem off on your mom and threaten to sue.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:52 AM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

um, this is the business owner's problem. he should block grandma's number. his system is too old and outdated (um?)? well, tough. i do sympathize with him to an extent, but dude. his system has to be 10+ years old and super lame if it can't handle blocking a number.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 12:17 PM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

They did put call-gate on my Grandmother's room phone, but because the calls weren't going through, she resorted to the lobby phone.

I asked my Mom to ask whether or not it's possible to move the lobby phone so Grandma doesn't have access to it or if they could put call-gate on the lobby phone as well.

I don't blame the business owner for being upset, it's disruptive to have so many phone calls every day. Apparently the calls go through an answering service, which may be where the tie-up of not being able to block calls comes from. He could claim harassment and loss of business.

My Mom is still worried about being sued, so my Grandmother won't have a phone in her room any time soon.

Thanks for the ideas!
posted by backwords at 12:25 PM on March 6, 2014

How about posting a note by the phone in the lobby? "Gladys, your son can't give you a ride today" or whatever might click the right connections...

Good luck! sounds like a bummer. Maybe your mother could pay for the business guy to get a new phone number (basically, paying for a new yellow pages listing)...
posted by acm at 12:58 PM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is there any way to re-direct calls made from her room to Grandma's old number, to your Mom's or your own number?
posted by easily confused at 1:00 PM on March 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Your Grandmother is in an assisted living facility where they should be able to manage disruptive dementia-related behaviors. If they cannot manage this aspect, they may be mismanaging other aspects of her care, and it may be time to move her to a specialized memory care facility or a smaller residential care home with higher staffing ratios.

But perhaps they are simply unaware of what's been going on? Can you ask the facility for a family-caregiver conference to discuss these issues?
posted by rada at 1:05 PM on March 6, 2014 [27 favorites]

Your Grandmother is in an assisted living facility where they should be able to manage disruptive dementia-related behaviors.
Not really, that is not their specialty. Usually assisted living facilities provide only a limited number of "assists" per month and then you are on the clock. It's mostly physical help, not nursing care or behavior monitoring. But rada is correct that as dementia progresses, it's going to be time for a memory care unit where this won't be a problem, because there are no phones. If right now she is making 20 calls a day and not remembering that she did that, she's probably closer to that move than you think.
posted by beagle at 1:36 PM on March 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

That business should be able to block grandma's number (as well as the lobby phone) via whomever their phone company is. Old equipment is a smokescreen.

Your mother is exhibiting classic "going home" behavior of an Alzheimers/Dementia patient. If you aren't careful, she very well could start wandering out of the assisted living facility. Your solution to her phoning may well be moving her to a memory-care unit.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:45 PM on March 6, 2014 [11 favorites]

Speaking from emotionally devastating experience, I agree that this is a sign your mother is trending toward needing more serious caregiving. Whether it's assisted living or memory care, there should be a regular assessment taking place of her ability to handle activities of daily living, and the facility probably has a cap on what they will handle under contract even if you're paying extra.

My father got in legal trouble with a restaurant located in his old office building. He hadn't lost his memory, just his behavior controls, and began harassing the staff about holding a history talk there, even though they weren't authorized to let him do that. Eventually he was brought home by the police, who didn't charge him with trespassing because the cop knew him. It can be very frustrating.

Apparently the calls go through an answering service

Could you at least temporarily cover his increased costs here? It seems that they should be able to handle a call, being a call center with trained personnel, that essentially amounts to "Sorry, Gladys, your son can't pick you up." If you could make that work, it would be very kind.

One of the things they teach you in caregiving is to honor the patient's reality, rather than "correcting" them. If you're the daughter and mom calls you "nurse", you act like a nurse. It's even more disorienting to tell them something that conflicts with what they understand in a given moment.
posted by dhartung at 2:35 PM on March 6, 2014 [6 favorites]

Beagle, I think you may be thinking of independent living communities - there are different types of assisted living facilities that provide different levels of assistance, including very high levels of care. Some are comprised of different buildings, or sectioned off parts of a building, that each provide different type of care, e.g. one building does physical disability and the other is memory care. In addition, there are different types of contracts - some provide a-la-carte care like what you are describing and others bill all-inclusive. This also varies by state so you may be thinking of ALF typical for your state but not others.

Backwords, this something to discuss during your care conference. If your facility is not set up to manage Alzheimer's and Dementia, then they should tell you so you can move your Grandmother to a better home. Repeated phone calls are so common for people with Dementia that I am thinking the fact that they have a phone in the lobby may indicate that they are not suitable for these types of residents.
posted by rada at 2:45 PM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is a variation on the dial-less phone that would let Grandma pick up the phone and automatically dial a single number. Make this a google voice type service that automatically gives an appropriate recorded message "Hi, Grandma. Thanks for calling. Do you need some help? Please leave a message" You can then arrange for all calls to go to voice mail and even have the transcript show up in your email account just in case she is saying something that warrants attention. By leaving a message in your own voice, it might help her feel that she had completed the call and not go looking for another phone.
posted by metahawk at 2:46 PM on March 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your mother has nothing to be afraid of with regard to a lawsuit. Sure, anybody can sue for anything, but this is the sort of stunt that pisses judges off and could get the plaintiff's attorney being sanctioned.

posted by computech_apolloniajames at 3:21 PM on March 6, 2014

It would be pretty easy to set up a recording...these days those devices are so small (they put them in birthday cards!). Modify it slightly so it will start when the phone is pulled off the hook. Dial tone, numbers beeping then whatever message you want to leave.

However, I am Nthing what people have said about looking for a higher level of care. If they aren't noticing going back and forth from the lobby all day making phone calls (thats every 30 minutes for someone who is up and active 10 hours a day) then they most likely aren't noticing other symptoms that just simply aren't annoying other people.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:18 PM on March 6, 2014

Does she have to make any real calls? Could she be given a non-operative phone, or even a toy phone?
posted by zadcat at 8:32 PM on March 6, 2014

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