In the 1950s, people did not own the rotary dial telephones in their homes. They rented them from the phone company. Moreover, it wasn’t until the end of that decade that local manual telephone exchanges, which required a human operator to connect a local phone call, were replaced by automatic exchanges. There was no voicemail. Try again later.

For people 75 years old and older, that was the phone system they knew. It was the one with which they grew up.

Enter the smartphone approximately 20 years ago with its multiple functions and applications (commonly known as apps). It may be a surprise to learn that a large number of those functions and apps have been designed with seniors in mind.

Smartphone Features for Seniors

Smartphones equipped with simplified menus and enlarged text and icons for seniors are now available. They allow seniors to connect on social media and search for information, and they provide an astounding array of features to assist them:

  • Medication reminders
  • Quick and easy access to medical professionals
  • Medical alert systems
  • Preprogrammed buttons for emergency or frequently used numbers
  • Enhanced volume and hearing-aid compatible phones
  • Low-battery alerts that can text caregivers or friends
  • Long-lasting batteries

According to the Bethesda Care Management Program, medical information such as prescriptions, medication allergies, blood type, and emergency contacts can be stored on smartphones for use by first responders in the case of an emergency.

Another important smartphone feature is GPS tracking capability, so that the whereabouts of seniors can be determined (as long as they have their phones with them and the phones are on).

SeniorList offers information on the features seniors should look for and information on several different models of smartphones.

What is the Best Cell Phone Plan for Seniors?

There are many plans available, including smartphones for seniors who want to have access just for emergencies or infrequent use. The cost is minimal, but so are the options, including talk time and text restrictions.

There are also plans specifically designed for tech-savvy seniors. Cricket and Boost are two such services. Unlimited talk time and text, as well as upgrades for video streaming and high-speed data, are some of the features that can be added.

There are many information resources on smartphones and plans. Lifewire, for example, offers tech buying guides and plan reviews. Here is their review of the Jitterbug prepaid wireless plan.

FaceTime for Regular Check-ins

Whether you are a caregiver or a senior, there is value in seeing the person to whom you are talking. So much communication is non-verbal, and a visual image of a loved one can reveal physical problems that may not be apparent in a voice-only phone call. This feature is especially useful for long-distance caregivers.

FaceTime, the smartphone video conversation app, can turn calls into better and more effective conversations.

The Learning Curve

OK, you have come up with a strategy—the type of phone, payment plan, apps, and options. Now, as the caregiver or adult child, you may need to help lead your senior from the “rotary-dial age” to the “smartphone age.” The journey probably won’t be an easy one.

First, consider all the things you automatically do with your smartphone—swiping to unlock, tapping to answer calls, widening screens with your fingertips. Those functions were not even dreamed of until the beginning of this century.

If it is a brand new world for your senior loved one, have patience and do not overload them with too much information all at once.

You can set up the important features in advance and then explain the function to the senior later. Set up shortcuts for the apps the person will probably use more often. Understand that, at first, they may have a fear of touching any buttons, and you may get a lot of questions. Just remember that you probably had many questions for your parents when you were learning something new.

Teaching seniors the basic skills used to navigate a smartphone—swiping, tapping, moving between screens, dragging icons around – are not only important but may also have unexpected benefits. In addition, teaching seniors who are hard of hearing to text is a great way to remain connected with them.

Also, keep in mind many retirement living communities provide classes for senior for phone usage. In addition, seniors can register for instructor-led workshops and online classes. The end goal is to stay connected with each other by taking advantage of technology.

Simplifying Smartphones for Seniors

Bethesda provides smartphone and technology education to its senior living residents through our “Computer Comfort” classes, to help our seniors remain independent and in touch with their loved ones.

Find more senior-friendly technology ideas and tips on our blog.