Senior Smartphone Adventures: A Love-Hate-Love Story

As family caregivers of senior adults, we know how important it is to make use of technology in our senior’s day to day lives. It can help keep them safe, keep them engaged with distant friends and relatives, entertain them, stimulate their brains and give us piece of mind about their health and safety.

The difficulty comes not only in getting technology into the hands of our seniors but, at least as importantly, helping them learn to use it correctly before they give in to frustration. It is apparent that we must be willing to be involved as advisers before the purchase, teachers after the purchase and coaches/troubleshooters for use of the technology in the future.

Recently one of our parents obtained a new iPhone, the latest greatest technology to become connected.  Naturally, the phone that was owned previously was about 15 – 20 years old and didn’t do anything but send and receive phone calls. It was so old it had to be replaced because it couldn’t be charged anymore.

Off to the phone store our senior loved one goes! The iPhone was selected because it was the one the provider’s upgrade credit covered and not necessarily the best fit for what was needed or even desired. Home he goes with a new toy! Oops, he has no instruction manual to figure out how to turn on the phone! Ok, he goes online and get the owner’s manual after a few hours struggling to figure out which phone and which owner’s manual was the one that would do the trick.

After we called his cell phone several times without getting any response, we ended up having to go to our senior’s house and give an in-person tutorial because it “can’t be answered.” Whew!! Finally everyone knows how to answer the phone. Together we updated the settings in the phone and picked ringtones for incoming calls, text messages and emails. We figured out how to add dates to the calendar, enter each contact name and information separately (remember this was not in the old phone and couldn’t be easily transferred over), and made the screen show the stock market scroll. We learned how to go to the app store and load a weather app so we could keep track of the weather in every city and state where we have family members. We tried to Facetime with the grandkids but that was a complete bust because we didn’t have the WiFi set. Oops, here we go again back to the owner’s manual!

There was such excitement associated with purchasing this cell phone and then it quickly turned into frustration over the difficulty getting it to work. The expectation was that you turned on the phone and it started. The multitude of settings and apps and programming that was required just to get it to baseline without adding in all the things we take for granted and use everyday was overwhelming for our senior.

Just understanding the tactile usage was confusing.  The impression is that it is the same as the old phone that requires a push on the button. Our parent was pushing hard on the answer button but unable to answer the phone. When our personal tutorial covered soft, gentle touch using a sliding motion to answer the phone or turn it on, things were a bit easier — most times. The motion to enlarge the screen—let’s not go there yet!

My fear was that the phone would be abandoned in the first few days of ownership. But with lots of time spent together setting it up, using the functions, making fake phone calls, learning how to text (we still haven’t mastered Facetime) and just figuring out how to get it out of the holster and answered before the call times out, we are finally feeling confident in the new technology.

There is a sense of accomplishment and perhaps even a sense that he is not as old a dog as he thought and can still learn new tricks. He can now brag to his phone buddies how he can do this and that with his new smartphone. He can even take a photo and send it to someone, which was something he really wanted to be able to do!

Early doubts have been replaced by a feeling of victory over technology — oh, and that the “smart” phone really is!

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