Resources for Family Caregivers of Older Adults
Seniors Using Their Cell Phones as … Phones

Seniors Using Their Cell Phones as … Phones

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With more computing power than carried on the first moon mission, our cell phones – smartphones in particular – give us the ability to perform many functions beyond simply making phone calls. In fact, many are capable of making phone calls without using the phone system.

Most of us utilize the capabilities our phones give us to make them an indispensable part of our lives. You might feel we’ve become too reliant on them.

That’s not true of most of our senior loved ones, at least according to a recent report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Seniors Lagging in Most Cell Phone Uses

When it comes to most of the common uses (common today, at least) for our cell phones, seniors are lagging far behind the population in general.

  • Picture taking – With our smart phones taking the place of carrying a camera for many of us, it isn’t surprising that 82% of cell phone users say they use them to take pictures. Only 44% of senior cell phone owners report doing so – and that’s by far the closest seniors get to the rest of the population.
  • Texting – Certainly another popular phone activity, done by 4 out of 5 cell phone users – – but only one third of seniors choose to communicate in this way.
  • Internet access – Use of our smart phones to access the web is growing rapidly, with 56% doing so, a value that has doubled in the last four years. Only 13% of seniors connect to the internet in this way, though.
  • Email – Half of us email with our phones now, part of what keeps too many of us tethered to the office way too much. Seniors are much less active with email on their phones, with 12% reporting use of that application.
  • Using apps – Speaking of applications, or apps, seniors are only one fifth as likely to use their phones to download apps, with 8% doing so vs. 43% of the total population.
  • Banking – Nearly 30% of Americans check bank account information, or more, with their phones while only 7% of seniors do so.

Why Seniors’ Phone Use is Different

The Pew study didn’t get into why seniors are far less likely to use their cell phones for purposes other than making calls, but we encounter a few reasons when talking with older adults – some of which can be addressed by family caregivers. Note that these reasons can apply to younger people as well.

  • Their phone doesn’t perform those functions. Many people have the same phone they’ve used for years or choose new phones without the bells and whistles many of us take for granted. For some it might be just a matter of showing them what they’re missing by not getting a phone that gives them the ability to accomplish much more.
  • They don’t know how to use their phones for these functions. Sometimes it’s as simple as showing someone what a new phone can do. Many are getting smartphones because that’s what their providers give them when it’s time to get a new phone, but no one takes the time to explain what the phones can do. That’s something most of us could address with senior loved ones.
  • Some just don’t want to do more with their phones. We’ve talked with and heard about some who want to use their phones to make calls, cameras to take pictures, etc.

Why Seniors’ Phone Use Matters

You might wonder about our purpose in quoting statistics about cell phone usage and why we feel it matters enough to dedicate a post to the information. There are a number of ways we think family caregivers can use the information to help seniors. Here are a couple of key benefits.

  • If our senior loved ones could benefit from getting greater use from their cell phones, especially if they have smartphones, this is yet another way we can help them make their lives better. Our phones link us to our communities and the world in so many ways beyond simple voice calls – – which can be a real asset to seniors who might otherwise be living in isolation while aging in place.
  • Smartphones are not the best fit for everyone, especially if they really don’t want to use their phone for more than making phone calls. If your senior is among those and just wants a phone to make phone calls, a gift of a smartphone might only complicate their life needlessly (and cause you to spend money needlessly) because they take extra steps and are inconvenient when making or receiving calls. We might also want to make sure they don’t get a smartphone pushed on them when getting a new phone, especially since they would likely also be saddled with a costly data plan they won’t use and thus don’t need.

Technology is great, but only if it helps make our lives better. If it’s technology we won’t use, more advanced technology isn’t necessarily better. Of course, if our senior loved ones can’t use it but want to do so, we as family caregivers have an opportunity to help them learn.

6 Responses to Seniors Using Their Cell Phones as … Phones

  1. Another reason–for me, anyway, is that I can’t really afford the smartphone, and if I could, it would be full of data that would be redundant, for the most part, since I do prefer my desktop and netbook. And there’s the possibility of having it lost or stolen, with all that stuff on it. Oh, and the cameras on the “dumb” phones are okay, but not much to write home about. Smartphones are fine, but some people just want to be able to call and say hi, and do the fun stuff at home or on something larger and with more power and memory.

  2. I’m 60 so, I’m a baby boomer-I have some thoughts on this. I didn’t have s cell phone until 7 years ago, and my first phone was a flip phone-all I did was make phone calls with it-for the most part. 3 years later my niece saw my phone and said “that’s an old phone!” So, I got a new one, and did a lot more texting and picture taking with it-even though it had some capabilities for using the internet, I didn’t ever use it for that. Three days ago, I got a smart phone-not the newest one-bit an iphone 4s-which was a free upgrade from AT&T. I have downloaded about a dozen apps, and I am simply amazed at what it can do! I can now see what all these millenials have been doing for the last few years. I think that if most seniors were simply shown what they can do with a smartphone, and if cell phone providers were to manufacture phones which were geared for ease-of use towards a senior market-we’d see a huge spike in cell use. I also got a blackberry from work a few months ago-at first it was cumbersome to use-but I quickly figured out ways to use it which are saving me a great deal of time! I can now see that “these kids” as many would say-are no smarter or tech-savvy than seniors ‘could” be if they only had the knowledge and someone to show what these phones can do-they are in fact very easy to use-and learning something “new” is really the best thing one can do to keep their brain power working!

    • John, we couldn’t agree more with your experience. The more seniors get help from family and friends to learn to use technology devices especially smartphones, the more they will be used and benefits achieved. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, hopefully it will get other seniors to become ‘tech savvy’ too!

  3. I consider myself very tech savy for a senior. Love creating slide shows and all on my computer, but just got a Samsung Galaxy 4 and am ready to take it back! I certainly do not need the tech savy stuff to make calls and text. Or take a pic once in a while. This, too me is way to many bells and whistles.
    I simply want a phone that I can see and text easily with a big keyboard would be nice. I continue to punch two keys at once which makes texting very difficult. I would rather push three times to get to an O on the alphabet than to continually have to back space to clear keys hit in error on the smart phone. and no i do not want a stylus. one more thing to have to worry about. If someone were smart they would design a smart phone for seniors. but its the young tech savy that design use and they are missing out on a market that would switch if it met their needs.

    Way too much trouble.

    • Thank you Lin for your feedback. We hope manufacturers will listen to what consumers who are older about what they want and need so that the new products will be helpful!

We'd love to hear your thoughts!





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