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  • Cameron Oglesby

Are your parents making smart use of their smartphones?

Updated: Oct 30, 2022

Smartphones are an essential part of everyday life. For people like your parents – members of the Silent Generation or Baby Boomers – they can be life saving. But they can also be awkward to use, hard to read, and an open door to spam and scams.

So next time you visit your parents (always a good thing to do), borrow their smartphone(s) for a half-hour or so, and perform some loving tech support. (Or, if you’re a member of one of those cohorts, have a go at it yourself.)

Most of that tech support will involve the Settings, while some will involve decluttering the apps.

  • Update – Go into Settings and check for updates. Android and iOS release small updates regularly, and major ones every year. Most often they include bug fixes and security patches, which can preserve privacy and prevent scams. Bring the updates up to date, and set the phone to automatically update the software going forward. Some of the updates may change the way the screen looks or add potentially confusing new features, so set aside time to walk your parents through the new look and options.

  • Make the screen more legible – Because eyeballs are among the body parts that never stop growing, and because cataracts usually start forming by age 60, even the biggest smartphone screen can be hard to read. While you’re in Settings, you can make the text type bigger and bolder. A setting like iOS Display Zoom enlarges everything on the screen. It’s also a good idea to turn up the brightness (and show your folks how to control it themselves). Back in the 1980s, research on the legibility of nursing home signage found that white type on black or dark backgrounds was the easiest to read. Smartphones have both light and dark modes, so switch back and forth to see which works best for them. Increasing the screen autolock time from the default 30 seconds to three to five minutes wouldn’t hurt, either. It can avoid the need to sign in all over again if the screen shuts down in the middle of a brief pause, and one click of a button can shut down a screen that’s on too long.

  • Emergency and health settings – Android’s Safety & Emergency settings and iOS’s Medical ID (in the Health settings) can be literal lifesavers. In emergencies, they can tell EMTs about the phone owner’s medical conditions, allergies, and prescription and OTC meds. You should also add emergency contacts (including a neighbor if no family member lives nearby).

  • Block attempted scams – And also sales and robocalls. With an iPhone, go to Settings>Phone>Silence>Unknown Callers, and any unknown calls will go directly to voicemail (where you can play them back to se if you want to respond). Most phone carriers offer spam filters or detection. If your parents use Facebook or Instagram, go through their “friends” to weed out people they don’t know and any other listings that look fishy.

  • Turn on automated cloud backups – That way, you can clear up space on the phone while preserving photos, videos, and data – even if the phone itself ever gets lost, breaks, or is stolen.

  • Introduce your folks to Siri or Google Assistant – Voice assistants are great for dictating texts and emails, getting driving routes, and doing all sorts of other useful things. Write down a list of starter commands for them to try out and get used to.

  • Write things down – Particularly user IDs and passwords. Different apps (e.g., online banking) have different sign-in formats. Some insist on including special characters, while others can’t read them. Some require at least one capital letter, while others are fine with all lower case. Still others have four-digit PINs. That adds up to something hard for anyone, of any age, to remember, so make sure to keep written records – one set for your parent and another for yourself. It’s impossible to hack pen and paper.

  • Declutter apps – Smartphones come with a plethora of apps. Sit down with your parents and their phones and go through the apps one by one. Find out which are useful and important to them, which are just taking up screen space, and which are nuisances. Realize that apps which are useful to you may have no value for them; you may love using Apple Wallet, for example, while they prefer good old-fashioned plastic. Move the apps they use most to the first screen, the ones they use least farther back, and the ones they never use to trash.

Being able to make the most use of their smartphones helps your parents live more independently, and that’s important. To them. To you. And to us here at Senior Insights.

It would be all too easy to “err on the side of caution” and smother seniors with more care, or a higher level of care, than they actually need. But in addition to wasting money, that would undermine their independence.

That’s why our very first step in custom-designing a coordinated senior care management plan is to learn all about the clients we’ll be caring for. Our thorough three-part needs assessment goes beyond each client’s physical needs and even beyond their emotional, cognitive, and psychosocial needs. We see our clients as the unique individuals they are, and value their priorities, values, and choices; their family and social relationships; their preferences, hobbies, interests – and above all, their desire for independence.

So please pick up your smartphone and call, email, or text us to learn more about what a difference that approach can make.

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