Help seniors safely get the most out of a smartphone

Help seniors safely get the most out of a smartphone

Adjusting smartphone settings can be difficult for anyone under the best of circumstances, and a tech specialist who works with the elderly has some tips for grown children to help their parents get their phones in order.

Abbie Richie helps residents use their smartphones at Friendship Village in Tempe, Arizona.  (With permission from senior experts)
Abbie Richie helps residents use their smartphones at Friendship Village in Tempe, Arizona. (With permission from senior experts)

Adjusting smartphone settings can be difficult for anyone under the best of circumstances, and a tech specialist who works with the elderly has some tips for grown children to help their parents get their phones in order.

Is your phone waiting for a software update that you’ve been warned about?



“So many of my clients ignore it,” said Abbie Richie, CEO and founder of tech support company Senior Savvy.

“They might look at the description and not see something that really appeals to them. Maybe there’s more emojis, or a new feature that they don’t even have access to or care about,” she said. “But there are security updates in every one software update. And for that reason alone, you’ll want to lean into the updates.”

Are your parents still using all the apps loaded on their phones? If not, it’s worth the time to find out and delete as needed.

Apps can contain information such as addresses and birthdays, and they can be vulnerable to hacking if someone doesn’t have appropriately secure passwords.

“Studies show us that people typically use one password on three accounts. And if one of those accounts happens to be hacked, the hacker will try it on another account,” Richie said.

Security aside, parents can appreciate that their phones are just more user-friendly.

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After deleting apps that are no longer in use, those that remain may need to be reorganized, “so that the one (they use) the most is easily accessible,” Richie said.

Is the screen bright enough and are the elements easy to see?

If not, they can go under the Display and Brightness setting, for example, and take advantage of an option called Screen Zoom.

“It goes from the standard setting to the zoom setting. And what this does is — the text, the font, the apps — it all appears a little bit bigger,” Reggie said.

Smartphones can be great tools for health and wellness, and Richie recommends people take a deep dive into all the monitoring options and information that can be uploaded for later reference to health apps, like the iPhone’s built-in Health ID.

“Then I would look at it regularly — to check their health trends to see how many steps they’re taking, to see if there are any alerts in terms of walking steady. It’s in the health app, and it’s chock full of really valuable information that can also be shared with a doctor,” said Richie.

Additionally, a legacy contact can be added to a user’s Apple ID. On Android phones, emergency contact information can be added to the lock screen.

“If something happens to you — as an older adult — you want to decide who can be your senior contact, who can have access to your device so they can turn off certain account usage,” she explained.

Does your phone go dark too quickly, causing too frequent visits to enter a password on the lock screen?

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“A lot of times I see their phone go to sleep after 30 seconds and it’s really annoying,” Richie noted of observations made while helping clients. “And a lot of people don’t know they can adjust it.”

Richie notes that older adults tend to be traditional learners who like to take notes they can refer to, and warns that some information may need repeating.

“So get ready, and realize that the next time you talk to them, you might have to show them again how to upload a picture, how to attach a picture to a text message. It is part of their learning process and they will need you to repeat the lesson again,” she said.

Finally, if a phone is updated to its model’s latest software and it starts getting sticky or there’s a bug, just try turning it off and on again.

“When you turn something off – whether it’s your phone or your computer – it gives you a fresh start. And quite often the problem, the error, the problem will go away when you turn off the device, she said.

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