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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published January 21 2012

Bursack: Calls, visits mean a great deal to seniors

Dear Carol: My mom, 93 years old, sent cash Christmas gifts to all her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

However, she got few thank you notes and asks why she never hears back from these people. She also doesn’t have many friends left so there’s no one to fill the void. She has early to mid-stage dementia and gets depressed easily when she does not get visits, phone calls or notes.

My siblings do call and some come to visit once or twice a month, but I wish they would do more. They are all out of town and working, so I know it’s not easy, but it would help Mom so much.

I feel for my mother because when she gets a visit or phone call I can see her spirits rise and she has more energy. I care for her 24/7 and I feel I am doing all I can. Do you think I should write my siblings and tell them my concerns? – Linda

Dear Linda: Feeling lonely is common as people get to be in their 80s and 90s. They have outlived most of their friends, and often family members don’t understand the value of a note, a card or a visit. They have busy lives, time goes fast, and they don’t think about how long it’s been since they’ve made contact with a lonely elder for whom each day may be like any other.

I think a kindly written email to the whole family may spur a little action. They likely think they are doing enough considering their busy lives, and they have no idea what you are dealing with. They aren’t thoughtless or ill-natured people. They likely have just lost perspective of the loneliness of your mother, and your struggle in being a daily witness to it.

One thing to remember – visits and phone calls are soon forgotten when someone has mid-stage dementia. People can quickly forget a phone conversation. Even so, please encourage calls and visits. When someone visits, try to take pictures so you can show your mother later and discuss the visit. That will help the visit last in her memory. You may even, with the permission of the caller, want to record phone calls for repeated replay. That will mean a lot and will take minimal effort from your family.

Cards, letters and even short notes are priceless, as they can be kept and re-read. Do try to explain this to the whole family, without blaming them for “neglect.” You may want to send them this column as a way to explain your feelings.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.