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Guide to Phones for Seniors

Why do seniors need cell phones?

The obvious answer is that they may want to contact someone in an emergency. Seniors are prone to falling and if they have a phone within easy reach it’s very easy to get help. The second obvious answer is to chat with friends and family to reduce the feeling of loneliness. Owning a cell phone gives a sense of independence combined with the security that help is available at the touch of a button.

So, before we choose to buy a phone, spend a minute deciding on the reasons to have one. Your reasons will determine which cell phone you should buy.

Should you choose a Smartphone or something else?

There are two basic types of cell phone

  • A smartphone allows you to access the internet, write emails, online banking, take photos and many other things as well as making phone calls and text messages. Only choose a smartphone if you’re comfortable using a touchscreen and are prepared to learn to use it. Actions that are intuitive to younger generations aren’t always so with a senior. If you’ve got a younger family member who finds it easy to use a smartphone, ask them for a few lessons and get their advice on which one to buy.
  • A basic phone allows you to make calls or text messages to friends, family and emergency services only. They come in three types. A ‘Flip Phone’, ‘Block Phone’ and a ‘Slider Phone’.

What is a Smartphone? ( Should you choose Android or iOS? )

These might just sound like words, but in fact, they are the names of the phone’s operating system. An iPhone made by Apple uses iOS whereas Android is made by Google. Most people have a strong opinion as to which one they prefer.  Some users believe that an iPhone is more intuitive to use than an Android phone.

Maybe or maybe not. That’s up to you to decide.

You can try them both at your local cell phone store, so have a go at both and see which one is easier to use. Remember that iPhones generally have better security, but they are also far more expensive.

You’ll also find that only Apple sells iPhones whereas many different companies sell Android. If you intend using the phone to video call your family, check to see what type they have. The video calling app of the iPhone is called Facetime and you won’t be able to use this unless you have an iPhone too.

What is Flip Phone?

These have a front cover that flips open to reveal a screen and rudimentary keypad. These only provide text messaging, voice calls and basic camera service.

What Block Phone looks like?

This type has no frills at all. Just a screen and a numeric keypad. This is just what you need if all you want is a simple phone.

What about Slider Phones?

These have a large screen that slides out of the way to reveal a large keypad. These are perfect if you have issues with vision or have large fingers.

What are the features of Senior Friendly Cell Phones

Luckily many phone manufacturers offer phone options specifically to keep things simple for seniors. There are many different features available so let’s have a quick look at them.

Large buttons and screens

Every senior knows that their eyesight and co-ordination could be better than it is. Having larger buttons and larger screens are the solution to these problems. They allow you to see the large button font easier, press a large button and see a large font on the screen. Surprisingly the larger controls don’t usually make the phone casing any bigger so it’s still easy to carry around.

Simple menus

If you don’t want to worry about lots of menus doing stuff you’ll never use, choose a basic, no-frills menu phone. Often smartphones have loads of different touchscreen icons available. So, if you choose a simple menu phone you won’t be confused about what you can and can’t press.

RELATED: More suggestions on how to make a smartphone more elderly friendly.

Higher volume

This helps if the user has hearing problems or is in a noisy environment. We all know what happens in noisy cafes or restaurants. There is so much background noise, you can’t actually hear anything. High volume phones not only allow you to increase the ring volume but also increase the earpiece volume. Don’t forget that you can use earphones, earbuds, and headphones with phones too, in case you want to shut out all outside noise.

Emergency button

Many senior-friendly phones have a big red button programmed with an autodial number to summon help. Some emergency buttons have a few different phone numbers programmed in. So, if the first on the list doesn’t answer, it moves on to the next. These phones also automatically send a text message to the number.

Voice typing and Voiceover

Sometimes it gets really confusing when seniors have to write text or email messages. We start writing, then make a mistake and find we can’t delete the error because our fingers aren’t nimble enough. Then, we become frustrated and give up. Not if we have voice typing, we won’t. The software automatically writes the text for us by listening to our voice. Voiceover software is useful too. Rather than having to find our reading glasses every time we need to read a text message, the phone reads it to us. What can be easier than that?

Magnifying cameras

We all know how difficult it is to read the small print in documents. Using this feature allows us to read without fumbling for our reading glasses. Just expand the text to a comfortable size.

Front and rear cameras

These are really useful. Smartphones have two cameras, one on the rear and one on the front. You may ask why there are two. The rear-facing lens is for taking regular photos or videos, while the front-facing lens is for taking ‘selfies’ or for having a video conversation with your loved ones. Don’t forget, the grandchildren love to ‘Facetime’ as they call it, or use WhatsApp. They both let you see them grow up no matter how far away they live.

Alerts and alarms

Alerts are really useful for the average senior. In fact, they’re useful for just about everyone. Even the simplest cell phone has a calendar or alarm of some kind, allowing us to mark up doctor’s appointments or times for medication. These are really useful features when your memory starts to play up. In fact, you should make it a routine to look at the calendar every day. If you make entries for all the jobs you need to do around the house, you won’t forget anything ever again.

GPS location finding

GPS is really useful for those of us who need help finding a specific place. An even better use for GPS is to find those who tend to wander off alone. Other people such as family or emergency personnel can then locate the phone (and therefore us, assuming we’re carrying the phone). Unfortunately, you’ll only find GPS on a smartphone but it’s well worth paying extra to use this feature.

Internet access

You can’t deny how useful this is. Even if you think you won’t need internet access, you can look at your bank account, do your food shopping and have it delivered, and buy and read as many books as you would ever need. You can even lookup local weather forecasts, and purchase train and plane tickets if that’s what you want.

Medical alert

This is a feature that isn’t always available. You’ll have to contact your network provider or medical insurer to find out. Because smartphones have motion detectors built into them, they can tell if you have had a fall or if you haven’t moved for a period of time. Don’t forget the emergency button mentioned earlier too. This will keep you in touch with someone who can help.

Item tracking

As a senior myself, I know how frustrating it is to lose my car keys, reading glasses or television remote control. You put something down and then forget all about it. Certain apps allow you to connect a tracking tile to the item and then when you’ve lost it, you can track its whereabouts using your smartphone.

Fingerprint recognition

This feature is probably one of the most important available on a modern smartphone. The phone has a sensor that scans your fingerprint as an alternative to passwords when unlocking your phone. Seniors often forget passwords and passcodes so with this feature you can ensure your personal details are always secure. Another useful feature is that the phone can be set to recognize other fingerprints. This means your details are kept safe but members of your family or your spouse can access the phone if necessary.

QWERTY keyboards

This is certainly a useful addition to modern phones. If you had an older and more basic phone and wanted to send a text message you’d have to press number buttons multiple times to choose letters. This is a very slow method of typing so choose a phone with a full QWERTY keyboard instead.  

Fitness and Health Tracking

Many smartphone apps can track exercise data such as how far you’ve walked or run. They can also calculate how many calories you’ve burned and the time spent following your workout. If you combine a fitness watch with your phone you can harvest even more data. If you don’t want to use a fitness tracker on your phone you should check regular fitness trackers.

The watch collects information about your sleep, your exercise regime, blood pressure, and heart rate and transfers the information to your phone for storage and analysis. This is just what any health-conscious senior needs.

It allows you to keep a watchful eye on your exercise so you don’t overdo it! Many health insurers reduce insurance premiums if you use their fitness watch.

Book reader

Many seniors enjoy nothing more than a good book. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to carry around the latest novel in your pocket. This is where a smartphone and its reading apps come into their own. There are many different book reading apps available to download, the most popular probably being ‘Kindle’.

You can either buy best selling novels at usually just a couple of dollars each or choose from many thousands of classic novels, usually free of charge. This is great if you are housebound or live miles from the local book store or public library. In fact, many public libraries have an online branch where you can borrow free of charge anyway.

But, if you have problems with reading you can even listen to audiobooks on your phone, also check audiobook reading devices.

Should you choose Locked or unlocked?

When you buy a new cell phone, it can either come tied to a certain network or it isn’t. Also known as ‘locked’ or ‘unlocked’. It makes sense to be locked to a network if you buy a phone from them. Whereas, if you buy one from an independent store or from online retailers, it’ll probably be unlocked. You can, of course, pay a recognized technician to unlock a previously locked phone.

Are there any advantages, one way or the other?

You’ll find that every so often a network supplier will offer discounts if you buy one of their locked phones. The discounts may be in the form of ‘money off’, more talk minutes, or more internet data.

On the other hand, unlocked phones are usually more expensive to buy. You can, however, choose the plan that suits you from many different network suppliers.

How to choose a Plan?

The ‘plan’ is the agreement between yourself and your network provider. It states what you are agreeing to pay and what the provider will supply in exchange. Simple!

There are however many different plans you could choose from depending on what the provider is offering at the time. All the variations however all boil down to just four types.

Pay As You Go (PAYG)

No prizes for guessing how this one works!

You pay for a certain amount of phone credit up-front. If you intend using the phone a lot then you pay more than if you weren’t. The big advantage of PAYG  is that you can pick and choose the best value deal from many providers.

Some PAYG suppliers offer cheaper monthly rates with a specified amount of call minutes and texts included. Whereas others offer a flat rate per day with unlimited calls and texts.

If you don’t like taking out a contract, this is the one for you. You top up your phone credit when you want and for how much you want. This is a good plan for seniors who intend using their phones infrequently, for incoming calls only, or for emergencies.

Flexible phone plans

These plans charge a base rate each month, plus additional charges for how much call minutes, texts or data you use. You’ll receive a bill at the end of each month for the services used during the month. Some plans specify a maximum number of call minutes or data for the price you pay. But, if you go over the limit you are penalized by paying higher rates.

This is a good plan for seniors who might vary their cell phone use and have the self-control to use their phone at an agreed level but don’t want the hassle of topping up their phone credit.

Unlimited Plans

If you want to use your phone a lot or use data by video streaming, video chatting, games, etc. without paying a large bill at the end of the month, choose one of these plans. By the way, you can use high data apps for free if you bypass your network provider using a WiFi hotspot.

Senior Plans

When you’re looking for a suitable cell phone plan, ask the network provider if they’ve special senior’s rates or features. Some providers offer packages that include doctor-on-call apps, medication reminders, and other similar perks. It’s always worth asking.

What’s next?

Now that you have more knowledge about cell phones you should make the right choice when choosing yours. If you are looking for specially designed phones you can check telephones for hearing impaired or cell phones for seniors with dementia.

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