If you grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, your only telephone plugged into a wall jack in your home. In 1973, the first cell phone lumbered into existence, weighing 2.2 pounds. After a 10-hour charge, a person could talk for 35 minutes.

Today, cell phones and smartphones have become a necessity for most people. While seniors are using them at an increasing rate, their usage is still far behind younger segments of the population.

How can seniors be encouraged to use their cell phones for safety, convenience, and as an easy way for family and friends to reach them?

Senior Cell Phone Problems and Solutions

Problem: When senior adults purchased items years ago, the items came with printed instruction manuals. Today, manuals are online, and phone stores are staffed by tech-savvy people who assume everyone understands how to use a cell phone or smartphone. If the salesperson asks about desired options, the senior may not know or understand what the options are. In addition, a 30-second demonstration by the salesperson can be confusing and intimidating for the senior.

Solution: Knowledgeable family members should review apps and options with their senior loved one before a visit to the phone store, or better yet, accompany them to the store. While there, help them learn how the phone operates. You may want to provide some handwritten notes and check in with your loved one several times later on to make sure they can use their phone properly.

Problem: Small screens and tiny keypads are difficult for seniors with vision and dexterity challenges to use. Hearing loss may also make it a challenge to understand what is being said on the phone.

Solution: Smartphones like the Jitterbug Smart have been developed especially for seniors. They feature larger text fonts and icons, list-style menus, voice command typing, email access, a camera, and are hearing-aid compatible.

Problem: The senior can be overwhelmed by all the apps and icons on their phone screen. They may also feel there is just too much complexity around owning a phone and therefore refuse to consider using one.

Solution: Discuss and demonstrate the apps on their phone to them. Ask which ones they want to keep and disable the apps they don’t want. If a smartphone is just too complex and frustrating for the senior, purchase a simpler cell phone designed simply for making and receiving calls. Also, help them review data plans based on their phone usage and finances.

Problem: The cell phone becomes an annoying source for robocalls, scammers and telemarketers. Seniors may shut the phone off to avoid them.

Solution: Talk to your senior about scammers, fake charities, or strangers asking them to donate on the phone. Scammers also work through text messages. Remind your senior not to respond to texts from numbers they don’t recognize. Make sure access to the senior’s smartphone is protected by a strong password, and tell them to never store information, like social security numbers or health insurance information, on their phones. In addition, talk to them about call blocking.

Problem: Seniors may feel they don’t need a cell phone to communicate with people.

Solution: Tell them you understand, but that their children and grandchildren are using their phones to send messages, photos and videos. If they want to be included and involved, they need to access it on their phone.

Also, show them that the news and information they are reading in print is readily accessible on their phones. In addition, there are many phone apps that seniors may enjoy. Senior Living lists several of these apps that provide information, entertainment, and assistance with health issues.

You may also want to explain some of the other benefits of cell phones can provide with a little effort to learn about them:

  • Enhanced ability to make emergency calls
  • Weather, date, and time checks
  • GPS navigation access
  • Serving as a medical alert and location device

The willingness for anyone to learn something new depends upon its relevance for them. In other words, they want to know what is in it for them. If you can open up the possibilities of connection, information, and enjoyment available on their cell phone, they will be far more willing to learn about it.

Most importantly, be patient with your senior loved one. It may take some time, but you can make their lives more enjoyable and safer by increasing their cell phone usage.

Technology has made it easier for us to keep in touch with our loved ones. Ensure you’re maximizing all the benefits with your phone and other technology by checking our technology articles.

With 133 years of experience, Bethesda has become a leader in senior care, offering independent living, assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing. To see if assisted living is right for your family, tour either of our communities: Bethesda Hawthorne Place or Assisted Living at Charless Village. After meeting with our residents and highly trained staff, you will instantly feel at home.