Addressing Phone Use Challenges for Older Adults: A Guide for Caregivers

Date:

October 21, 2023

Phone Use Challenges for older adults

Many older adults encounter difficulties when it comes to using phones. Loss of memory, hearing, vision, and motor skills can all contribute to making routine phone calls a challenging task. Additionally, some older adults struggle with the latest cell phone technology and may even avoid using mobile phones altogether. However, the ability to use phones plays a vital role in maintaining independence. If your loved one can’t easily reach out to you or others, it can be tough for them to age in place without regular support. As a caregiver, you can assist your loved one in overcoming these barriers that might discourage them from using the phone.

Here are some tips to help older adults with using phones:

1. Motivate Them to Learn How to Use Their Phone

One of the significant challenges you may encounter is your loved one’s resistance to learning how to use their phone. Even if you buy them the simplest phone available, it won’t make a difference if your loved one lacks interest in it. Highlight the benefits of phones that resonate most with them, whether it’s connecting with grandchildren or having a way to contact help in emergencies. When teaching them how to use their phone, focus on what matters to them, and avoid delving into functions they don’t care about or won’t use. The choice of who teaches your loved one how to use the phone can also make a difference. Your loved one may be more receptive to a tech-savvy grandchild than an adult child who didn’t grow up with modern phone technology. They may also benefit from technology classes offered at a senior center or in the community. Learning alongside peers who are also beginners at using this technology can take some of the pressure off.

2. Explore Captioned Telephones

If your loved one has hearing loss, they may struggle to hear or understand the person on the other end of the line. Captioned phones, which provide word-for-word captions of telephone conversations, can be a solution to this problem. They function like regular telephones but come equipped with display screens where your loved one can read what the other person is saying. Some states offer captioned phones for free or at a reduced rate. You can find more details about the service options in each state on the Federal Communications Commission’s website. If your loved one can use a smartphone, there are also apps available with similar functions.

3. Address Vision Problems

For those with vision loss, using standard telephones and touchscreen smartphones can be challenging. Many companies manufacture telephones of both types with large buttons and basic features that are easy to navigate. Loved ones with vision loss can also benefit from phones with voice command and screen reader options.

4. Consider Special Phones for Loved Ones with Memory Loss

Using phones can be particularly challenging for loved ones with dementia, especially in the later stages. There are telephones designed specifically for older adults living with memory loss that have pictures for buttons instead of numbers. Instead of dialing a number, your loved one can press a button with your picture on it to call you. Some phones also include options that will block your loved one from randomly dialing numbers and prevent scammers from reaching them.

Source: WellMed Charitable Foundation & Julie Hayes, MS, Content Manager at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging


We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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