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How to Choose Phones for Seniors

I've worked with the elderly and people with special needs for 20+ years. I have an awareness of some of the things that might help them.

Tips on Choosing Phones for Seniors

Like millions of others, I'm part of a "sandwich" generation which is increasingly responsible for the care of both children and parents. As parents begin to age, we find ourselves needing to help them make adjustments in their lifestyle to meet increasing safety needs. Thankfully, technology can be very useful in this respect, as long as we make wise choices and assure that the adult in our care is comfortable with these devices.

Phones for seniors can be an important tool in assuring access to a network of friends, family, and assistive services at all times. While many seniors are comfortable with modern cell phones, others are not. They are either unfamiliar with the technology or have limitations with vision, hearing, or motor skills that make these phones difficult or impossible to use. I'll provide a few tips for picking out phones that may be better suited to the needs of some people as they age.

Please remember that the following tips are suggestions which are dependent upon the desires and skills of the individual. There are simply things to consider.

Simplicity

Certainly, some seniors are very accustomed to using gadgets, but for millions of other seniors, they're avoided because of their complexity. Over the years, cell phones have added many functions; functions which are of no use to some older users. Camera functions, video recording, web browsing, and music player capabilities are features seldom used by a significant number of people over age 70.

These additional functions also make cell phones more complex. There are more menus, more complex navigation, and more buttons. For a senior who hasn't used a cell phone in the past, their only desire is to use the phone as a phone in most instances. Nothing else.

  • Tip number one in choosing phones for seniors is to determine whether or not a more basic cell phone is needed. For instance, perhaps a phone that allows voice calling and messaging only without all of the other features. Clearly, if other features are requested, this isn't appropriate.
  • Tip two is to check the menus and navigation. For seniors with less tech experience, any new device should be fairly intuitive to use. For instance, some phones have a clearly marked Yes/No or OK button to push in response to prompts on the screen versus several screens of menus to page through.

Ease of Handling

Ease of handling can be an important feature for older individuals if they have motor difficulties or limited tech experience.

  • In these instances, a design that's easy to grip and not too small is a good idea.
  • For these individuals button size and spacing is important. Generally speaking, a new user won't appreciate having to use a pen or stylus to operate the buttons.
  • Of course, a phone that's capable of voice dialing and one button dialing for those in their contact list is best, especially in case of emergency. Others can assist in getting this set up if necessary.
  • In general, a candy bar style phone is the most simple as it doesn't have to be opened. However a clamshell or flip phone can be good for those with any hearing loss as these phones allow them to hold the phone to their ear more easily while talking.
  • If the basic cell phone you choose isn't a candy bar style phone, then having an external display for caller ID and the time is a good idea. This allows them to see the information they need without having to get the phone open first.
  • The best phones for seniors are often the ones that provide a bit of tactile feedback when operating it. Buttons that click or have a distinctive feel when pressed, reassure a new user that they dialed correctly. Touchscreens are ok as long as it provides an auditory and tactile response when dialing. It simply needs to be readily apparent to a new user that the button has been activated. This type of attribute will certainly cut down on the number of "misdials" and confusion.

Good Audio

Being able to hear well on any phone is important. Cell phones don't have the same audio quality as landline phones. If a new user has a hearing loss this can be a problem. Even if they don't, there is still the issue of poor seal around the ear and potentially a weaker signal than them may be accustomed to if they are new to mobile phones.

  • If the intended user wears a hearing aid, it's critical that the cell phone is hearing aid compatible. You merely need to look for a phone with an M4/T4 rating or better so that there won't be excessive feedback when the phone is near their ear/hearing aid.
  • Checking the voice quality, volume, and assuring good signal reception in their home and the places they frequently visit are important as well.
  • The volume control should be easy to find and operate. As I indicated above, a clamshell design is often preferable because it's easier for the user to press the phone to the ear while talking. Some cell phones for seniors are even designed with a padded earpiece to help shut out ambient noise.

Easy to Read

I can testify to the difficulty of reading smaller print as we age. Having keys with larger print and font on a screen that's bright, large, and has good contrast is critical too. There are a number of phones for seniors on the market that offer easy to read screens and keypads.

Don't Think Smartphones Are Out of the Question

There are a number of smartphones out there that meet the needs of those seniors who are a bit less tech savvy or have other special needs. The Jitterbug Smart is just one example. Simple menus, voice typing, hearing aid compatibility, large displays, and the ready availability of assistance all make them a possibility.

Affordable Plans

For seniors with special needs, finding a basic cell phone is the first step, but finding the right plan is critical to assure affordability. In some instances, seniors won't be using their cell phone as frequently as others. Thus, the ideal plan wouldn't offer huge amounts of talk time that they won't use.

  • Several of the major US providers and specialty providers such as Great Call/Jitterbug do provide plans designed for those over age 65 which allow seniors to pay less for less usage.

    For instance, Verizon has their Nation 65 Plus Plans and AT&T has a Senior Nation Plan. Even T-Mobile has their Unlimited 55+ Plan.
  • Another option might be the pay-as-you-go services which would allow a new user to forgo the long contract commitments that accompany most traditional plans. Several of the major providers offer this as well. These can be very affordable if usage is low despite the per minute cost being a bit higher.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2009 Christine Mulberry

Comments

Alfred from Vancouver, BC V6B 3K9 on May 22, 2019:

Cool article! It is a pity that I read just now! I bought a Samsung Galaxy S9 smartphone last month for my father in Cleveland. He feels very uncomfortable, cannot adjust to the touchscreen and type messages. We will buy as described in the article.

Thanks to the author!

P.S. I will write a post after the purchase, of course.

Rpenafiel from United States on November 08, 2011:

The pointers are very well discussed. Great hub! Simplicity and affordability are what truly make the best cell phone for seniors. But getting a cell phone with a built-in emergency response system is also very ideal for seniors. With this, their safety can further be secured and people like you will have an enhanced peace of mind. Here’s a hub I wrote about that: https://hubpages.com/technology/How-Can-A-Cell-Pho...

scotied on March 16, 2011:

great article, very helpfull. i recently got a cellphone and plan for my grandparents. i opted for tracfone. their phone, the samsung t155 is very simple, and has nice large screen and text. i only cost $15, and the senior value plan they offer costs $7 a month. very afforadable. the other thing i really like with tracfone is their reliable nationwide coverage. it works like a bomb. the tracfone is hearing aid compatible and has the 911 emergency location assist. all in all that is what i wanted for them, a reliable phone for emergencies. got it

thejovial from United States on March 11, 2010:

Love the advice, This should help out my Grandma.

AndyPo on January 06, 2010:

Great advice

Paula Atwell from Cleveland, OH on January 27, 2009:

My parents are getting to be "seniors". This is something to think about.

Disney Scrapbook on January 26, 2009:

Great work on your hubpage, it is amazing how far mobile phones have come and how hard it is to buy a simple phone nowadays. I had the need to give my daugther a phone for when she is away, but it was so hard to find a simple one that she can just ring and text on. My mum took my grandparents phone shopping to get them a new mobile phone a few months ago, and she had a terrible time finding a situable phone for them. So great hub :)