Lonesome,Talkative Aging Parents: Phone Calls

To age well, connections to others are very important.
We know that, yet we can feel like we’re talked
to death; and that’s not good.

PROBLEM: Phoning an aging parent who talks and talks and talks can seem like punishment.

This may not matter as much, when we have nothing better to do with our time. Yet when adult children are frazzled and stressed or they’re just plain tired, there’s help.

First, identify which aging parents are most likely to be too talkative.
1.  Those have hearing problems and talk and talk because that’s easier than not hearing and understanding what is coming through the ear-piece.
2.  Those who are lonesome.
3.  Those who may not have talked with anyone all day.

Many of us mentally plan a phone call to aging parents into our daily routine no matter what….to bring fresh ideas, news, stimulation, or to check that they’re alright, or let them know we’re thinking about them and/or we care. Sometimes the timing is just plain bad– Their need to talk, trumps everything and we listen and we yawn.

Admittedly I fell asleep once, sitting too comfortably in a chair while being too tired, but dutifully phoning a living-alone 89-year-old. The older person on the other end of the line began a monologue and kept moving from one topic to another, barely coming up for air in between subjects. I couldn’t get a word in. The next thing I knew I was jolted from my short slumber–hearing “Susan, are you still there.” to which I quickly lied “of course.” (The truth would have been such an insult.) How embarrassing!


  • Partial solution–A phone with technology for hard-of-hearing users; or a hearing evaluation leading to purchasing– or wearing– hearing aids.
  • A well-charged, cordless phone, a headset to plug into the phone, a medium-or larger deep pants pocket or small shoulder purse, and a reasonable calling plan for adult children.

Last month my friend, Monique, told me she phones her 88-year-old mother in France at least every other day and they talk a long time. Mentioning how she got all the laundry done, worked and weeded in her garden, etc. etc. while talking to her mother, I was curious. Upon questioning, she said she went to Best Buy, bought a headset that plugs into that little hole (under the flap with a tiny raised headset logo) on today’s cordless phones, dials the number, then–with earphones adjusted–settles the phone into a pocket or a little shoulder purse and simultaneously talks with her mother and does her work.

When a phone call is impossible, try a fax–assuming parents have a fax machine. It conveys you’re thinking about them, but omits conversation. Or–at the beginning of the phone conversation–structure and control the call with something like “I only have two minutes but want to say hello and let you know….”

Staying connected–one of the three most important factors in helping parents age well; but one we should be able to handle well.

Old Technology, Unique Advantages– for Aging Parents and Football Recruiting

Unexpected help. Big advantage to aging parents and college football: the Fax machine!

The Wall Street Journal reports in a short front-page article “In College Football Recruiting, The Star Player Is the Fax Machine” (2/2/11).  Readers learn the first Wednesday in February is “signing day,” the date when high school football recruits can officially finalize their college choice with a signed letter.  To expedite the process the “often ignored” fax machine becomes the focus of anxious coaches as the signed letters roll in.

“I’ve never seen a bunch of grown men so worried about a fax machine, said the University of South Carolina’s recruiting coordinator,” (according to the WSJ).

Of course! Fax machines are more affordable and easier to use than the newer technology that scans and sends, so “everyone” has access to them. The fax machine can be “the star” for non-computer-using aging parents too.  Instantaneous written communication can help parents age well, and the fax’s simple technology is often overlooked in this regard.

How is it helpful?

1.  Health Issues: We–or “with-it” older parents– can fax the doctor’s office to inform of a health issue, asking for a quick fax or phone call back that day when a question needs answering (ie. New medication is causing nausea and dizziness. What to do?)
2.  “Heads up” for doctors:  Within 24 hours of an appointment, fax with specifics of reasons dad is coming in. Saves some precious time at the appointment.
3.  Clarifying problem mail: At times parents (indeed all of us) have confusing bills or written notices.  Once faxed to adult children, they can usually help untangle things to the point where parents can take care of the problem themselves with a fax or phone call to the sender of the bills or notices. If not, the problem is not a surprise and children are “ahead of the game” when they need to intervene.
4.  Simply staying in touch.  We know the more connections older people have with others, the better.  So why not a quick fax?  A living-alone, computer-less parent can read and reread it–and even fax back.

You’ll no doubt think of other uses for that old fax machine.  Or perhaps you’ll buy an inexpensive new one.  As we try to help older people age well, maintain independence and confidence, isn’t it important that we try not to do for aging parents what they can do for themselves –even if we can do it faster and easier?  The fax is another tool–for them and for us.

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.