When is a phone not just a phone? When special needs are involved the purpose and use of the phone changes. First consider the type – you can choose from corded, or uncorded. I recommend that the elderly have at least one phone in their home that is a corded phone. This generation grew up on just lifting up a receiver to talk, and putting it down to hang up. Using a button to answer or hang up on a cordless phone can cause confusion – especially since many phone brands name their buttons differently to answer and hang up, or they do not understand the symbols on the buttons. Corded phones are more practical and less confusing also because the battery does not need charging in the handset.
If a cordless handset is NOT placed in the charger correctly – it does not charge, or the user can let the battery die from not putting the handset on the charger. They pick it up and it is dead – this can be particularly confusing to an elderly person. Also, VERY IMPORTANTLY, you can always RELY on a corded phone – even during a power outage. Corded phones receive a small of electricity through the phone line, it is not dependent on the electricity in your home or office like a cordless phone. A cordless phone can not be charged during a power outage. Lastly, the corded phone is more secure when giving out sensitive information like social security, medicare numbers, and personal information.
Is an amplification phone necessary? According to the National Institutes of Health about 50% of persons over 75 have some degree of age related hearing loss. Many elderly men experience hearing loss due to service in the military – especially when the ears were not seriously protected when they served many years ago. First try to find out the degree of hearing loss. Generally, a phone with up to 28dB is good for mild hearing loss; 30-48dB for moderate hearing loss; and 50dB + for severe hearing loss. So, unless your elderly family member has a more serious hearing problem, I would recommend a corded phone that provides sufficient amplification for mild-to-moderate hearing loss. Most have adjustable volume and tone to match their need. Remember that age related hearing loss is usually progressive. Most modern amplified phones do more than make the conversation louder, they actually make the words clearer, and more understandable.
Make it Simple. Many elderly persons are starting to experience at least some mild memory loss or other cognitive problems. If the phone is for your aging parent, watch how they use their current phone, especially if it is a cordless phone, loaded with bells and whistles. If they are having a problem, choose a simpler phone. Many times they will not come out and say I do not understand how to use this phone – they might say I keep calling the doctor's office and no one answers the phone, or the phone rings, I pick it up and no one is there. You should then suspect a problem.
There are telephones available with larger keypad buttons which are especially good for those persons with Parkinsons or other tremor problems. When the hand shakes, it is difficult to accurately press small buttons. Sometimes, just having large fingers can make it difficult pressing small buttons.
If you choose a phone with Caller ID, make sure it has a large backlit LCD display with large fonts – this makes it easier to read and less mistakes are made. Vision loss is also common with advancing age so make life easier for them.
Lastly, if necessary there are SOS Alert Emergency phones. These phones can add a measure of safety and peace of mind. The elderly person wears a pendant around their neck or a wrist watch type device when at home. If they fall, or feel that they are having an emergency, they just press the button on the transmitter device and the phone automatically calls pre-programmed emergency contacts, 911, family members, etc. With these phones you have emergency monitoring without the monthly fees from security companies. So, if you have a family member that lives by themselves and you worry about them falling, or some other kind of emergency, you can have some peace of mind, and they can continue to live independently in their own home. You would, of course, program this type of phone for them, making sure it is done correctly.
Whether or not you choose to purchase a phone with an answering machine, depends on whether the elderly person can understand how to use it, or if a basic, simple phone would be better. Perhaps some early senility is beginning to set in, sometimes, technology has just become too advanced for some older persons – or perhaps – they just prefer simple – in that case buy the simplest, amplified phone. When considering a phone with an answering machine, also think about whether or not the person gets up out of a chair slowly and walks slowly. In order to reach the phone in time before it goes to the answering machine be sure you get a phone with the ability to set the ringer to a higher number of rings. I find that 6 rings will allow most people to answer the phone if indoors.