When I’m running late on my way home from work, I call my household and let them know. If I forget something at the store, I send a text to a member of my household who hasn't gotten home yet. When my mom, who is in great health and still rather young, fails to answer the phone by the third ring, my heart stops. Even my nine year old cousin has a phone. Cell phones do a lot to ease our mind about the safety of those around us, and can be especially helpful to members of the family who might need some extra support.
Many of our old loved ones, though, have refrained from getting cell phones because they have privacy concerns, or worry they might be cost prohibitive. Others worry that they might not know how to use them, and it will be a waste of money. We've taken some time to come up with ways to introduce a cell phone to an older family member to ease that transition.
The first step to easing concerns is to talk about all of the benefits. For some people, having a cell phone might be helpful enough to keep our loved ones independent for even longer. Many people combine their families or bring in caregivers as a way to help make sure their loved one has what they need. Talk about how having the cell phone will make it easier to call for help in the event of a fall, or someone getting lost. It is also alright to talk about your feelings, remembering to use “I statements.” For example, “I feel worried when I call the house and there isn't an answer because I’m scared there might have been an accident,” then talk about how much peace of mind it would bring you if your loved one was easier to get hold of.
Next, talk about the different options. Smartphones have a lot of features now that make them very accessible to older adults. Voice activated personal assistants, like Siri, can eliminate most manual navigation of the phone, and be helpful for people with visual impairments. There are also many settings to adjust contrast, text size, brightness, and volume, which make use of the device much easier. Remind your loved one, too, that there are many cell phones on the market that are geared towards older adults, ranging from simple models with large buttons that only have calling capabilities, to middle of the range models that have texting capabilities and full keyboards. Be willing to have a conversation about cost. Depending on the style of device that your loved one is looking for, cell phone service can cost as little as fifteen dollars per month.
For concerns about privacy note that the simpler the model of phone, the fewer privacy concerns there are. A very simple phone made only to accommodate voice calls is not always equipped with GPS, and any cell phone can be shut off or quieted when appropriate. Be willing to respect that sometimes we can be worried about someone when it is not necessary, and talk with your family about boundaries. For those of us who are used to being constantly accessible, it may be harder to understand concerns about privacy and scarier when we cannot contact our loved ones immediately. Having a conversation is the first step to giving everyone the peace of mind that they deserve.