Age-friendly phones

Savvy Senior

editorial@sierrastarDecember 31, 2013 

Dear Savvy Senior,

Can you recommend some good age-friendly home telephones for elderly seniors? My 82-year-old mother has a difficult time hearing over the phone, and her vision and memory isn't so great either?

Shopping son


Dear Shopping,

There are literally dozens of different types and styles of age-friendly phones on the market today that can help seniors with a variety of challenges like hearing loss, low vision, memory problems and limited mobility.

How to choose

To help you select a good age-friendly phone for your mom, you need to take into account her specific needs and wants because there are lots of options to choose from.

For example, for seniors with hearing loss there are "amplified telephones," both corded and cordless, that provide various levels of amplification usually ranging from 25 decibels (dB) up to around 55 dB, with some offering tone adjustments for high frequency hearing loss.

Most amplified phones are also hearing aid compatible and come with extra loud ringers and bright ring flashers to indicate incoming calls. Most have big buttons and a lighted keypad that make them easier to see and easier to operate for seniors with hand tremors or dexterity problems.

Some phones even offer "talk back" buttons that speak the number as you dial, and announce the number of incoming calls, which is great for people with low-vision.

If remembering is a problem, you may want to consider a "photo phone" for your mom that lets you insert pictures of family members or friends over preprogrammed buttons, so she can simply press the picture of the person she wants to call and they're automatically dialed.

"Emergency alert phones" are another option to consider, especially for elderly seniors who live alone. These phones come with a neck pendant or wristband (SOS button) so if your mom falls and can't get up, she can press it and the phone's pre-programmed emergency numbers will automatically be dialed.

If mobility is an issue, there are "speaker phones" that will let your mom activate the phone with her voice. Since telemarketing fraud is so common among the elderly, many age-friendly phones have built in caller IDs so she can identify who's calling before she picks up.

Where to Shop

While there are many companies that make and sell age-friendly telephones, the leading suppliers in the industry are Clarity clarityproducts.com), ClearSounds clearsounds.com), Serene Innovations sereneinnovations.com), Geemarc geemarc.com) and VTech vtechphones.com). To find these and other models, visit their respective websites, or try assistive hearing sites like harriscomm.com, teltex.com and soundbytes.com. Prices typically range from $30 up to around $300.

Another option is state-funded specialized telecommunications equipment programs, which are available in 47 states. If your mom's state has a program, you may be able to get her an amplified telephone for free. Check with her local telephone company or visit tedpa.org to find out what her state offers.

Captioned phones

If your mom has severe hearing loss, another option is captioned telephones that have a built-in display window that would let your mom listen to the caller, as well as read written, word-for-word captions of everything the caller is saying.

Options available include: CapTel captel.com) sold through Weitbrecht Communications, Inc. for $75, however many states have programs that offer them for free to residents in need; the popular new Clarity Ensemble that sells for $75 through clarityproducts.com; and the $75 CaptionCall at captioncall.com.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.

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