I'm writing this out of frustration of trying to find a simple phone for my 96 year old mother.  Going through the aging experience with my parents, other relatives, and parents of friends, has made me realize that appliances that are designed today are much too complicated people with diminishing capability to operate.  Let me use the phone as an example.


My mother lives in Hawaii and I live in Oregon (having moved 40+ years ago for an engineering job).  My mother was living on her own at home after my father died, but two years ago I moved her to an independent living facility.  Her phone is like a lifeline and we talk every day.  Recently she has been having problems dialing my number and in her attempts to figure it out she has been able to disable the phone so that I can't call her (phone connects, but no one answers).  I'm still not sure what she is doing but somehow whenever I have someone check - the phone is always working.


I decided that I needed to find her a simpler phone.  One for older people who can get confused by extra features and buttons like mute, flash, hold, redial,  talk, and off.  I wanted something like the original touch tone phones with only a number keypad plus only one extra feature - a single button autodial with my phone number.


If you Google "best phones for Seniors" (or elderly) you'll be surprised that the top hits will all be for cell phones.  My mother managed with a cell phone for a little while but was constantly forgetting to charge it and eventually couldn't navigate the phone book and started having difficulty reading the display.  Now, she would be totally confused by it.


So, I limited my search to corded landline phones (one's that did not need external power other than the phone line).   I found a number of phones that were "designed for seniors".


Attributes that are common to these phones:

  1. Large number buttons
  2. Large number font
  3. Autodial of stored numbers
  4. Voice amplification plus speakerphone


All of these are great features but somehow designers seem compelled to include other features or implement them in a confusing manner.  It could be that this demographic of elderly people doesn't represent enough of a market.


Here are examples of things that cause problems:


When my mother has problems calling, she starts pushing buttons other than the number buttons in an attempt to make the phone work.  I can imagine what a nightmare it would be if her phone had a "911" button.


I'm beginning to realize that my only option may be to buy a phone and modify it for her.


Here are the requirements that I would target:

  1. Phone connect and disconnect only requires picking up or replacing handset - no talk (on) or off buttons
  2. Phone only relies on telephone line power - no power supplies or batteries
  3. Large digit numeric keypad
  4. Single button autodial (may have more than one stored number button but each only requires a single press, no 2 button sequence)
  5. Non-volatile stored number memory - does not lose numbers with line power outage
  6. Programming and volume controls protected from user (under screwed down panel)
  7. Remove all other buttons (hold, flash, redial, etc)


I realize that at some point she is going to require someone to assist her, but hopefully with a simple phone she could still call by herself for a while longer.