Cell Phones for Aging Population

By: Christine Peppler

The utility of cell phones have made them extremely popular devices. However, as cell phones have advanced in recent years with increasing functions and features, their rising complexity and declining size have made them difficult to access for those with decreased motor, auditory, and visual skills. Included among those who have difficulty with access are a significant number of those people over the age of 65.

Most recent developments with cell phones have clearly focused on a younger population. Tiny multi-tasking devices that allow taking photos, downloading and listening to music, viewing video, and so forth are often more highly valued by a more youthful audience. Modern cell phones also demand excellent eye sight and fine motor skills to be able to operate them reliably. Although there are certainly many exceptions, vast numbers of older individuals either do not possess the visual and motor skills to operate such devices, are overwhelmed by the complexity, or simply do not desire the multiple functions offered on today's cell phones.

Clearly, cell phone designs should be offered to the public which are "friendly" to a broader audience. The critical functions of a cell phone are important to more than just one particular segment of the population. In this area, the cell phone industry has much work yet to accomplish, however there are some models currently available which offer at least some of the features that could be useful for older individuals.

There are a number of products on the market to boost/amplify volume. All of the major cellular providers offer individual cell phone models which are hearing aid compatible and possess speakerphone capabilities while others offer one button dialing for a handful of pre-programmed numbers. However, if the user wants more function, the screen and button size on these phones would be problematic and the phones still tend to be somewhat complex. Other models such as the Samsung t719 offer voice activated dialing but the screen and keypad are still quite small. Some retailers recommend the Firefly which is simpler and allows for one button dialing of preprogrammed and emergency numbers. However, older adults would need to overlook the bright colors, flashing lights, and glow as this cell phone is designed for young children.

Jitterbug is currently the phone that seems to offer many of the features necessary. These phones offer large buttons, easy to read text with a backlit display, louder volume, and speaker phone capabilities. Models with a regular numeric keypad or simplified one button dialing with direct access to 911 are available.

These phones have a padded ear piece to reduce outside noise and are hearing aid compatible. Voice Dialing is possible for any number in the user's phone list. Assistive services allow users to dial directly or to use operators to place calls. The phone arrives with frequently called numbers pre-programmed into it and updates to the phone list can be assisted or done independently. The phone allows users to pre-program up to 50 phone numbers.

Jitterbug service plans are affordable and simplified but still offer nationwide coverage. These phones are probably the strongest current competitor in the market for a simplified but adult appropriate cell phone. These phones are currently available online only (jitterbug.com), but offer a 30 day money back guarantee.

There is some hope that other cell phones will enter the market which will prove useful. Austrian maker Emporia for example has reportedly developed a cell phone which was also designed specifically for this population. In addition, Motorola is reported to have patented a technology that will allow an individual cell phone to detect the speech pattern of an older speaker and to automatically increase incoming and outgoing audio, increase font size, and simplify the menu without the user performing any functions. Although neither of these offerings are available at this time, it does seem that with their development and the ballooning growth of the over 65 population it is inevitable that the limited choices which exist today will expand.

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