Helping Your Loved One Overcome Barriers to Using Phones

Many older adults face challenges when using phones. Loss of memory, hearing, vision and motor skills can all make even routine phone calls difficult. Additionally, some older adults struggle with recent cell phone technology and may avoid using mobile phones altogether. However, the ability to use phones is an important part of maintaining independence. If your loved one can’t contact you or others easily, it will be hard for them to age in place without regular support. As a caregiver, you can help your loved one address these barriers that may cause them to stop using the phone.

Here are some tips to help your loved one with using phones:

  1. Motivate your loved one to learn how to use their phone

One of the biggest challenges you may encounter is your loved one resisting learning how to use their phone. Even if you buy them the simplest phone you can find, it won’t make a difference if your loved one has no interest in it! Point out the benefits of phones that resonate most with them, whether it’s connecting with grandchildren or having ways to contact help in an emergency. Then, when teaching them how to use their phone, focus on what matters to them and don’t go into functions they don’t care about or won’t use. Who teaches your loved one how to use the phone can also make a difference. Your loved one may be more receptive to a tech savvy grandchild than an adult child who didn’t grow up with modern phone technology. They may also benefit from technology classes given at a senior center or out in the community. If they learn alongside peers who are also beginners at using this technology, it can take some of the pressure off.

  1. Try captioned telephones

If your loved one has hearing loss, they may be unable to properly hear or understand the person on the other line. Captioned phones, which provide word-for-word captions of telephone conversations, are one solution to this problem. They work like regular telephones, but have display screens where your loved one can read what is being said by the person they are speaking to. Some states offer captioned phones for free or at a reduced rate. Details about the service options of each state are available on the Federal Communications Commission’s website. If your loved one can use a smartphone, there are also apps available with similar functions.

  1. Account for vision problems

If your loved one has vision loss, they may have trouble using both standard telephones and touchscreen smartphones. Many companies make telephones of both kinds with big buttons and basic features that are easy to navigate. Loved ones with vision loss can also benefit from phones with voice command and screen reader options.

  1. Look into special phones for loved ones with memory loss

Using phones can be particularly challenging for loved ones with dementia, especially in the later stages. There are telephones designed specifically for older adults living with memory loss that have pictures for buttons instead of numbers. Instead of dialing a number, your loved one can press a button with your picture on it to call you. Some phones also include options that will block your loved one from randomly dialing numbers, as well as block scammers from reaching your loved one.


Wrtitten for Active Daily Living by: Julie Hayes, MS, Content Manager at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging