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scamIf you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, you know the phone can be a real source of consternation. Something as benign as a telephone can not only cause frustration, but also some rather challenging – and expensive – predicaments.

While still living alone and in the early stages of cognitive decline, my mom wrote checks to every single organization that called asking for a donation. It didn’t matter whether she had heard of the charity or not; if they asked for money, she gave. Ultimately, she fell victim to a scam that resulted in thousands of dollars in “donations” to a bogus food pantry/homeless shelter. Unbeknownst to me, it all began with a phone call from a woman who was preying on the elderly.

Solving a Problem

I recently had an opportunity to speak with Tavis Schriefer, Co-Founder and President of teleCalm. His company has introduced a service to help caregivers create a safety net for the person they’re caring for. The idea was born of Schriefer’s own experience caring for his mother when she was in the early stages of dementia.

To help understand the problem they were trying to solve, founders of teleCalm interviewed hundreds of caregivers during the design process. After all, who knows these challenges better than those on the front lines?  The feedback led to a comprehensive, flexible, and easy-to-use service offered at an affordable price point.

teleCalm puts caregivers in control by allowing them to monitor and filter calls. The system considers every caller a “stranger” until they are added as a contact. Rules are then set up to determine how to handle calls. Not only can loved ones be protected from incoming telemarketer or scam calls, but outbound calls to infomercial ads and shopping networks are easily prevented.

Incoming calls from “strangers” can be directed straight to voice mail. Call history and voice mail messages are then accessible to the caregiver through the teleCalm app (available for iPhone and Android). The caregiver can also receive a text message each time a new voice mail comes in.

List of Features

boxToday, teleCalm offers the following capabilities:

  • Block undesired inbound or outbound calls.
  • See who loved one is speaking with in real time via the live dashboard.
  • Set up rules and messages for “quiet hours.”
  • Review call history.
  • Retrieve voicemails from your own (caregiver) cell phone.
  • Set alerts and reminders.

Developers are currently working on a feature that will notify the caregiver via text message if a call was placed to or received from a specific contact. For example, the caregiver might want to be alerted immediately if a call is placed to the doctor or a particular family member. Schriefer told me he expects the company to continue rolling out additional functionality as it becomes available.

The Technology and Cost

phoneThe technology behind the service is a common one referred to as voice over IP (VoIP), and requires only an internet connection and small VoIP box (provided by teleCalm). The unit is about the size of a hockey puck, and set up is as simple as plugging in the power, ethernet cable, and phone.

teleCalm can be used with your loved one’s existing phone and they can keep their existing phone number. Service includes unlimited minutes, free long distance, and free international calling.

At the time of our interview, teleCalm was priced at $49.99/month with an initial $50 activation fee. Keep in mind that in many cases, this can replace existing phone service.

Does this sound like something that could protect your loved one and bring you some peace of mind? I can’t help but think it would have been useful for us when my mom was living independently. I would be curious to hear your thoughts. Feel free to leave a comment if you have an opinion you’d like to share!