Smartphones for Older Adults

By Denise Montgomery

They’re Full-Featured Computers, Not Just Phones

Suggesting a smartphone for older adults is sometimes a dicey proposition, but here’s a funny thing: the definition of “older adults” is a squishy one, and it has less to do with age than understanding that new technology gets simpler to use the longer it’s around. True confession time: I’ll never forget the first time I declared I would never get a cellular phone because I would never need one. Because at the time, I was all of 29 years old. It was a chilly autumn day in Chicago. The world had lost Diana, Princess of Wales, just a month earlier and the leaves were turning red. A dozen friends had rented the first Austin Powers movie from Blockbuster. One hip dude showed up at the party showing off his high-tech brand-new Nokia. He started to demonstrate “texting” by madly smashing at the number keys rapidly, in seemingly random order. I laughed, shrugged, and instantly declared “I will never be so important, so busy, or so plugged into the world that I need to be reachable at all times. I already pay for a phone. Why would I need a cell phone? A landline is all I’ll ever need.” Within two years, though? I was the proud owner of a gold Motorola StarTac, inspired by the Star Trek communicator, and I felt just like Uhura every time I flipped it open. This “old dog” still wasn’t about to learn to text (nope; learning the multi-number finger-mash didn’t appeal), but I was surprised at how quickly I got used to being able to grab a device from my bag and make a quick call home to say, “Do we need milk/cream/butter/eggs/coffee?” I carried a lot of other things around with me as well. An address/phone/date book. Maps. A book to read on long commutes. Back at home, there was a bedside alarm clock and a phonebook thick and heavy enough to injure somebody. Then, ten years after the night of The Austin Powers Declaration, along came the next big thing. In 2007, Steve Jobs stood in front of a group of reporters and announced Apple would be creating something new—the iPhone. It would combine every kind of electronic magic into one device—communication, camera, global positioning, email, video, audio, everything. Even texting. “I will never be so busy or so important that I need all those things in once device,” I thought to myself. And then, after seeing early-adopter friends using theirs for a few months, I started saving up for one.

Smartphones versus Traditional Phones: Are Mom and Dad Ready to Upgrade?

If you or an older adult in your life is still using a “dumb” cell phone, it likely does everything it’s being asked to do right now. Flip phone technology for older adults makes outgoing calls, takes incoming calls, records voicemail, and makes emergency calls. (Lively’s Jitterbug Flip2 does all of this with style, big buttons, a powerful speaker, and even a voice dial feature, so it’s got more than the basics covered.) These phones even text, for those inclined to do so in the old-school way. Smartphones also do all of that, of course, but they can do so much more – they shouldn’t even be called “phones.” They’re miniature handheld computers. With wireless technology, Bluetooth peripherals, USB support, and more, these smart devices can become powerful hubs that control an entire home. Integrated with virtual assistants like Google Home and Amazon Echo, for example, they can be used to control technology for older adults like smart lighting, smart thermostats, and smart alarms, upgrading safety around the house in addition to communication in a single handheld base. That’s why so many older adults people are upgrading to smartphones these days, including those of us who don’t necessarily leap on the new tech train the minute it rolls into the station.

Talking Smart Upgrades with Mom and Dad

Recently, my stepdad (80 years young) was looking at upgrading his own Jitterbug flip phone. He was hesitant to consider the Jitterbug smartphone initially…especially when we started to talk about everything it can do. “A smartphone can take pictures,” I said. “Oh.” “It can surf the internet. The next time you’re watching a movie on Netflix and you wonder, ‘Hey, where have I seen that actor before,’ you can just grab your phone and look it up,” I suggested. “Oh.” “You can send and receive your emails from your buddies.” “Oh.” “You can get maps and directions and you can be the navigator while Mom drives on your next trip to the National Parks.” “Oh.” “And it’s super easy to use, I promise.” Silence. I understood. I really did. Because if you hand a typical “smart phone” to most folks, the last thing it looks is…smart. It looks intimidating. What are all those squares? What do they do? What happens if you press one? Why are they jittering? Did I break it? Make it stop! (That’s why the Jitterbug Smart4 has a vastly simplified menu, to make everything so much simpler to use.) I backed up. “Let’s go back to Netflix for a second. Remember when you two still had that horrible VCR?” “Oh, that piece of <redacted>!” “Yes! Remember how awful that was to use? Because it was all buttons! And you had to remember which buttons to press, in what order? Today it’s so much easier because you have the Roku, and you won’t let anybody else touch the remote.” “Oh, absolutely. It’s just bing bing bing and it’s all done!” “Well, phones are kind of the same. When you have buttons, that’s all you have. When engineers get rid of the buttons, they actually make it easier for that phone to be or do anything. It’s just like your computer upstairs. There aren’t any buttons on your computer, right? But you know how to use it. You find what you want, you click on it. It can be a canvas to draw on, a photo album, an alarm clock, a trivia game to keep your mind sharp—it can be anything and everything. Same with a smartphone. It can turn into a full keyboard, even, so you can text easily. You can even use your voice to type.” I’d like to report that my persuasion skills were 100 percent on-point that day, and that we already have a new smartphone owner in the family, but for now, options are still being weighed. That’s fine. Not everybody wants or needs a full-featured phone that can be and do everything. Some people actually appreciate the fact that their computer and their phone remain separate but equal and maintain an intentional wall between the two. That’s a valid choice. But for those who may never have given a thorough evaluation to smartphones, now may be the time to consider all the options.

27 thoughts on “Smartphones for Older Adults

  1. Anonymous
    January 7, 2019 at 12:59 am

    At $1000 – $1500 that’s NOT a necessity! Totally ridiculous

  2. Anonymous
    January 18, 2019 at 3:38 pm

    The phone advertised above costs about $150.

  3. Anonymous
    January 23, 2019 at 6:13 pm

    I have a smart phone that allows me to do many things but easily answering the phone is not one of them. I just want one never-moving button to push when I want to answer. I miss most of my children’s calls.

  4. Sheri K Fix
    January 25, 2019 at 5:02 pm

    My mom is 84 and loves the jitterbug smart phone 2. She has learned to use it and has vision problems and can see the phone easily. What is not so good is the great call service of check in calls and the promise to notify a designated family member if she does not answer. It calls her but fails to notify me if there is not answer. Been trying for over a month to get this fixed. No luck. Great phone but don’t rely on the check in calls

    1. January 25, 2019 at 9:39 pm

      We’re sorry to hear that, Sheri. Would you please give us a call so we can look into this together? We are available at 1-800-733-6632, 5am to 8pm PT, 7 days a week.

  5. Sheri
    January 26, 2019 at 2:28 am

    Thank you for your offer to look into this. I have called at least 5 times in the past few months. The phone has been sent restart codes and tech support has worked on this problem. I have had a call from someone promising to call me back to check on the problem in a few days. (never heard from them again). I spent 45 minutes again today talking to customer support and they sent the problem to an “escalation team”?? I would love for this service to work as advertised. The idea is great and she loves the phone.

  6. Trudy Jones
    February 9, 2019 at 1:25 am

    Can you buy the phone and not the efical alert system?

    1. February 14, 2019 at 6:07 pm

      Yes indeed, Trudy. To get started, please feel free to give us a call at 1-877-567-0675.

  7. John Long
    February 18, 2019 at 6:33 pm

    Part of me, feels ready for an Iphone. Although, I’d still like to wait for the JPhone. I want that Startac phone.

  8. Allison
    February 18, 2019 at 9:33 pm

    Thinking of upgrading my dad form the flip to the smartphone 2.
    But is the smartphone 2 trackable? It would be helpful to know if my dad doesn’t answer the phone whether or not he is at home or on the road

    1. February 20, 2019 at 9:16 pm

      Great question, Allison. Here is a link to some more information about our Link app for caregivers, which may help with your concerns.

  9. Wesley Stoute
    February 21, 2019 at 7:13 pm

    How much are the smartphones,for old people I have the flip jitterbug

    1. February 21, 2019 at 11:10 pm

      Thank you for your consideration, Wesley. Here’s a link to some more information about our new Jitterbug Smart2, which is currently on sale for $112.49 (regularly $149.99).

  10. Barbara
    February 22, 2019 at 7:19 am

    Just curious!!! My current phone/computer ( I phone 7) does everything. I’ve had it for two years. Do I need to upgrade??

  11. Frances Flowers
    February 22, 2019 at 5:14 pm

    My husband has mild vascular dementia. The dr said he can’t learn new things. However, he had a flip phone before his diagnosis. He is just forgetful and repeats things at this stage. Do you think he could use the jitterbug 2. No added features. Also can names and phone numbers be stored in phone for loved one.

    1. March 1, 2019 at 12:17 am

      Thank you for your interest, Frances. We’d be happy to speak with you about his needs and recommend some options for you. Please feel free to give us a call at 1-877-567-0675.

  12. Colleen
    February 23, 2019 at 12:32 am

    This is a great solution for the elderly, I am really impressed with this product.

  13. Shirley Trapp
    March 8, 2019 at 8:20 am

    The basic Problem with this ‘HIGH TECHNOLOGY” is never any hard copy instructions how to operate this ‘HIGH TECHNOLOGY” stuff.

  14. Mindy
    March 10, 2019 at 8:01 pm

    Not very handy for someone with dementia. I still recommend the simple, easy to use flip phones!

  15. Christine McLaughlin
    August 10, 2019 at 3:06 pm

    I am looking at the jitterbug 2 as an easy smartphone for my mother so we can text each other. Also, she needs a wearable medical alert device that does not need to be near her cell phone to work. My fear is that she will be somewhere in her home and fall and her cell phone in her purse will not pick up the signal from the wearable device. It looks like the new lively mobile plus “coming soon” would be better than the lively wearable device (that is more attractive). Is that correct?

    Also, your pricing on your web site is very confusing. I am completely confused as to what we need for a phone and a wearable device.

    1. August 12, 2019 at 10:48 pm

      Thank you for your consideration, Christine. For the Jitterbug Smart2 phone plans, you essentially pick the desired combination of minutes, text messages, and data. If you want 5Star health and safety service on the phone (accessed via the ever-present 5Star button on the screen), there is another fee for that, but reduces the cost of minutes. However, it does seem like you are more interested in the Lively Mobile Plus (which does not need a cell phone) for the urgent response service, which would be separate from the phone plan. We’re happy to help answer any questions you might have, and also talk about options for when the Lively devices are available. Please give us a call at 1-877-567-0675 to learn more.

  16. Kim
    October 22, 2019 at 10:34 pm

    I am very upset with the service I have received from Great Call / Jitterbug Phone!!! My phone I got was for my mother, who lives in a different area. She does not understand WiFi, and connecting to the internet, data and all that, which is exactly why I purchased the phone for her. I thought it was a phone for older people and easy to understand! Well every month my bill keeps getting larger and larger due to data usage! They claim they can not remotely limit her data usage and warn her when she is getting to the limit. I have no way of getting the phone and making the actual adjustments to the phone! I am so upset and don’t know what to do.

    1. October 22, 2019 at 10:37 pm

      We’re sorry to hear that, Kim. Would you please give us a call so we can look into this together? We are available at 1-800-733-6632, 5am to 10pm PT, 7 days a week.

  17. Vincent
    March 20, 2020 at 5:09 am

    Great article very impressive.

  18. Leo Chiu
    October 18, 2020 at 6:39 pm


  19. Leo Chiu
    October 18, 2020 at 7:03 pm

    Hello, please disregard my above message I must have accidentally hit the wrong key and it says the word “Long” Anyway I am now posting this new message. This is my very first GreatCall smart2 mobile phone. I’m so new to it Now here are the pros and cons. The pros: very informative and educational. Now the cons: the keyboard is too small and it’s often difficult to use and I do have a tendency to hit the wrong keys and the functions are so sensitive to touch it it and it gets so frustrating at times. But hopefully I’ll get used to it.

  20. carol massey
    June 15, 2021 at 4:29 pm

    I’ve had the Jitterbug phone for a few years & never use it
    because all the messages & calls are for someone who used it
    previously. I bought it new, but evidently the number is OLD. I
    have communicated with Jitterbug & they thought about fixing
    it, but don’t. People should make sure Jitterbug gives them
    a phone that works properly.

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