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Mobile Phones for the Elderly: An Introductory Guide

Mobile phones have become ubiquitous – an everyday lifestyle tool that we cannot live without. However, for older people there can be additional considerations when choosing from the vast array of mobiles on offer.

Which phones are easiest for older people to use? What is the best mobile phone for the hard of hearing? Is there a great mobile phone for the partially sighted?

Mobile phones are just as useful for seniors as they are for their younger counterparts. If not more so, given the value of a reliable phone in an emergency.

Finding the right phone for yourself, a family member or friend begins with establishing your requirements. Will you be video chatting with family and friends regularly, or do you prefer voice calls? Are you looking for a simple device for emergency calls only, or something you can play games on and take great photos with?

For older people there can be a few extra considerations too, such as visibility of screen, ease of use and button size.

Older people and mobile phones

Smartphones have long been associated with younger audiences, but research suggests that more seniors are using mobile phones than ever before. A recent Pew study found that of the 85% of seniors who own a mobile phone, almost 50% use a smartphone.

In turn, the world’s biggest mobile phone producers have been placing greater emphasis on accessibility and user-friendliness than ever before. There are devices available aimed specifically at the elderly, while others feature special settings for users who may be visually impaired or hard of hearing.

Making the right choice means deciding what exactly you or your loved one wants to get out of a device. Examples of which could include any combination of the following:

  • Video chatting with friends and family members
  • Making standard voice calls
  • Contacting friends or family in any emergency
  • Texting and social networking
  • Taking high-quality photographs and shooting video
  • Listening to music and watching movies
  • Checking the weather forecast
  • Marking events in calendars and setting reminders
  • Using maps and GPS while driving or walking
  • Monitoring health and wellbeing with connected devices
  • Browsing the Internet and shopping online

Today, a sophisticated smartphone has more in common with a pocket-sized computer than a conventional mobile phone. Even so, the phone you choose can be as simple or elaborate as you want it to be.

Mobile Phone Options for the elderly

The best way to begin narrowing down your choices is to decide between the three primary types of mobile phones available, which are as follows:

Flip Phones

A flip phone is about as simple as it gets, opening to reveal a basic keypad and a screen. Flip phones are extremely easy to use, as calls are automatically answered when the phone is flipped open and terminated when closed.

Most traditional flip phones have limited (if any) smart capabilities and are used mainly for calls and SMS text messaging. Some models feature oversized buttons and large fonts on their screens, making them a good choice for seniors in need of basic functionalities only.

A key benefit of a basic flip phone is huge battery life – sometimes up to a week from a single charge.

Block Phones

These are your classic ‘feature phones’ that likewise come with limited functions that go beyond the basics, in a standard ‘block’ format. They’re similar to flip phones in terms of features and practicality, with a basic non-touch screen positioned above a keypad.

Some block phones feature basic Internet connectivity, but are not suitable for browsing the web, social networking, online shopping and so on. Again, a good choice for voice calls, text messaging and emergency calls, but little else.

A simple block phone can also have an extensive battery life of several days at least.

Smartphones

This is the biggest category of mobile phones on the market today, ranging from the simplest £50 device through to £2,000 ultra-premium models. With a smartphone, you can do everything from videocall friends and family to play games to book holidays to watch the latest movies. It’s essentially an advanced communication system and cutting-edge entertainment system in the palm of your hand.

The features and functionalities of a smartphone will always go far beyond those of any block phone or flip phone. They operate by way of a touchscreen, often featuring no physical buttons whatsoever.

Some of the benefits of adopting a smartphone over a traditional mobile phone include the following:

  • Compatibility with connected lifestyle and health tracking products
  • Limitless scope for entertainment – music, movies, audiobooks etc.
  • The ability to send and receive pictures and videos from loved ones
  • Millions of entertainment, education and lifestyle applications available
  • Can be controlled by way of voice command – “Call Timothy” for example
  • GPS and real-time mapping for simplified navigation when out and about

However, there are also downsides to consider if planning to pick up a smartphone for the first time, which include:

  • Limited battery life – many models need to be charged every day
  • A steeper initial learning curve to get to grips with
  • Smartphones tend to be more fragile and susceptible to damage
  • More prone to errors and complex to set up initially
  • Using a touchscreen can be difficult for some users

It’s therefore a trade-off between a fairly equal number of pros and cons, in accordance with the requirements and preferences of the user.

Android vs. iPhone

iPhone

Manufactured by Apple, iPhones are powered by the company’s iOS operating system. Most experts argue that iPhone are more intuitive, responsive and user-friendly than Android devices. They are also considered more secure and more technologically sophisticated in general.

However, they can be more expensive to buy in the first instance and are known for being highly susceptible to damage.

Android

Google’s Android software powers the vast majority of smartphones on Earth, with options available to suit all budgets. There’s much greater scope with Android where device type is concerned, including plenty of models designed specifically for seniors and people with disabilities.

Particularly for those who only need a smartphone for basic communication purposes, an Android device is a more cost-effective option.

Phones made especially for the elderly

There are some specific phone brands who create mobile phones that are made designed to be helpful for the elderly and have features such as extra loud sound, large keys and a higher visual contrast than other phone brands.

Phones made especially for the elderly can also include built in personal alarms. However, while this is a super feature, this does rely on the phone being on the person should a fall or accident happen, therefore it’s wise to also carry a personal alarm which can be worn either as a wristwatch or around the neck. A personal alarm can be activated with a simple touch of a button and will generally also be waterproof, meaning that it can be worn in the bath or shower (you cannot take your mobile phone in the shower!). Personal alarms can also have fall detection, which mobile phones do not, meaning the alarm can call for help if it detects the wearer has had a fall.

Factors to consider when purchasing a phone for an elderly person

Irrespective of preferred brand, there are several key factors that need to be considered before deciding on a device.

The most important examples of which include:

Volume – Individuals who are hard of hearing will need to ensure that the phone they choose has the volume range needed to accommodate their requirements. There are some android devices on the market designed especially for the hearing impaired.

Touchscreen Vs Keypad – A touchscreen can be more versatile than a mechanical keypad but may also be more difficult to use for some people both in terms of being more complex, but also on a practical note, buttons may be harder to touch and see.

Screen Size – A large phone with a huge screen is not necessary if the device is to be used only for occasional voice calls. But if you plan on texting, surfing the web, video calling, social networking and so on, you need a screen of an appropriate size.

Battery Life – Battery life varies significantly from one device to the next.

If in doubt, consult with an independent retailer that stocks a wide variety of different device types. Let them know exactly what you need your device to do, and they will set you up with something suitable at a price you can afford.

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