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Smartphones for Older Adults: Useful Irritant or Bothersome Utility?

seniors and technology

Author: Ellen Blake


Are you an older adult who doesn’t want a smartphone? In my opinion, everyone should own a smartphone, even those who believe they won’t use it.  You don’t have to eliminate the landline; but sometimes it’s nice to have both. You will quickly realize the convenience and usefulness of a smartphone, especially since touch-based systems are easy to use and help us stay safe and connected.

Below are great ways to put your phone to good use.

Your Phone Can Read to You

Your phone can read the content on the screen out loud, whether its an email, text message, or written article.
iPhone: Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Speech > Speak Screen. (Once enabled, you can click open any article, drag two fingers down from the top of the screen to get the reading started. There is also a control that adjusts the speed of the reading voice.)
Android phone: Go to Settings > Accessibility > Select to Speak. (A small icon of a person appears on the screen; tap it and the phone begins reading.)

Hearing Aid Boost

Apple’s new Live Listen feature turns your iPhone into a microphone and links it to a many styles of compatible hearing aids.
iPhone: Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > MFi Hearing Devices and select your hearing aid model.
Android phone: Hopefully soon…stay tuned

Magnify Small Text

Use the magnifying glass feature on your phone’s camera to read small type such as the information on your prescription label.
iPhone: Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Magnifier. (On older models, press the Home button three times to activate the feature inside the camera app. On new iPhones, use the Side button.) Android phone: Go to Settings > Accessibility > Magnification. (To activate, open the camera app and tap the screen three times.)

Send Message if Driving and Can’t Respond

There is a feature on the new phones which will help prevent distracted driving. A text is sent to incoming calls which explains that you are not hands free right now and will call them back.
iPhone: Go to Settings > Do Not Disturb > Do not disturb while driving > Activate.
Android phone: Go to Settings > Sound > Do Not Disturb > Turn on automatically > Add rule > Driving. If that doesn’t work, download Google’s free Android Auto app.

Use the Smartphone Camera for Reminders

Snap a picture of your car and surroundings when parking in a large parking lot (If you’re lucky, the spot will have a number or other identifying feature) to find it more easily when you return after shopping or the show. Take a photo of the labels on your medication bottles to make forms easier to fill out at the doctor,  or your AAA card so you always have it with you. The possibilities are endless. Photos can be accessed on your smartphone even when you do not have cell service.

Get Rides (i.e. UBER)

seniors and smartphone

For older adults who do not have a car or do not drive anymore, Uber is a cost effective way to get around. Book a local driver to attend doctor’s appointments or do errands without relying on friends or family.  Easily download the UBER app from the App Store  or Google Play; it works well on both iphones or androids.


Other Good Uses For Smartphones

  • Emergency phone calls
  • Video chats with grandchildren
  • Controls for smart devices (i.e. smart thermostat or smart lock)
  • Texting
  • GPS to navigate when driving or walking
  • Weather reports on the go
  • Date and time
  • Health related apps
  • Internet

Are you convinced yet that a smartphone might be a good idea? Many resources are available if you are concerned about learning the technology.

Local Classes and Workshops
Many communities offer beginning computer and personal technology classes for older adults new to technology. Contact your local public library, senior center, college or university, or local stores that sell computers to find out what’s available near you. Your Area Agency on Aging may also be able to help you – call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 to get your local number.

If you can’t find any local programs that meet your needs, here are some national resources that offer technology training in select locations.

AARP TEK Workshops: Available to everyone, TEK workshops are free technology learning events on tablets or smartphones offered in various cities throughout the U.S., 202-434-3021.

SeniorNet: This organization offers a variety of basic online computer courses as well as instructor-led workshops at 36 learning centers throughout the United States. There is a reasonable first year membership fee. See or call 239-275-2202 for more information.

Oasis Connections: Provides free computer, Internet and mobile technology classes in 30 U.S. cities. They partner with local libraries, job help centers, senior centers and faith-based organizations where these classes are offered., 314-862-2933 ext. 272.

Lifelong Learning Institutes (LLIs): Usually affiliated with colleges and universities, LLIs offer a wide array of noncredit courses to retirees, including some technology courses. To find an LLI that offers computer/technology classes, contact your local college or search the websites of the two organizations that support and facilitate them – Osher and Elderhostel.

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2 thoughts on “Smartphones for Older Adults: Useful Irritant or Bothersome Utility?

  1. Like many technologies, it can be a both a blessing and a curse. Sitting across from someone who can’t stop looking at their phone comes to mind as one of the top cons of smartphones. People seem to be living virtually more than in reality these days.

    Just the same, when the power went out during our last big storm, it was great having a built-in flashlight in my pocket. It was also great to be able to check on when the power would be coming back on. And I get lost a *lot* less than I used to now that I have the Waze app on my phone. Hard to argue with having a Swiss-Army Lifestyle tool available at all times.

    Overall, I wouldn’t go back, but I do occasionally find myself pining for the days when the only real distraction from real life was a TV in your living room, and all other times we had to be engaged in living.

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