What to Know About Cell Phones for Seniors

Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on June 29, 2022

Cell phones are mobile computers that make it easy to call and text your friends and family, and they keep you connected to the internet wherever you go. Their popularity since the early 2000s has led to 97% of Americans and 92% of people over the age of 65 owning one.

The rising demand for cell phones has led to rapid advancements in technology, which can be overwhelming to keep up with. When choosing a cell phone for older people, you can take advantage of the most user-friendly technology. 

What Are the Benefits of Cell Phones?

Cell phones may improve your quality of life as an older adult. For example, they can make it easier to have an active social life by allowing you to stay connected to loved ones through sharing photos and video-calling. 

Cell phones also promote independence. Apps that allow you to control your personal wellness by keeping track of your health records are available. The ability to search for information on the internet and use a GPS to find directions can be an advantage. Plus, cell phones offer security by allowing you to call for help from anywhere.

Cell phones can reduce the risk of developing dementia by providing mental stimulation in the form of games, both online and offline. Lots of TV shows and movies that can be viewed on the go as well.

What Are the Drawbacks of Using a Cell Phone?

Cell phones can have some drawbacks for older people. Before purchasing one, consider both the pros and cons.

A learning curve. You must understand the functions of a cell phone to use them. If you aren't familiar with the technology, then it may be hard to operate. It could take time and assistance before you can use the phone by yourself.

Easily stolen. One in ten cell phones is stolen and sold for cash, and you won’t likely get it back from the thief. Worrying about protecting your phone from theft can cause anxiety.

Fitting your budget. New smartphone models can cost up to $2,000. Older versions and refurbished phones can still be hundreds of dollars. In addition to the cost of the phone, you also need to pay for data, talk, and text plans monthly. Finding a phone and plan that are within your budget can take careful research.

Is There a Free Cell Phone for Older Adults?

A free cell phone is rare, but there are a few ways you can save money on your monthly bill and possibly get a discounted cell phone if you’re an older adult.

Government programs. One way to get a discount on wireless plans is to qualify for the Lifeline program — a federal program run by the Universal Service Administrative Company. Its purpose is to help people with low incomes get cell phone plans at a lower price. 

The discount for Lifeline cell phone service is up to $9.25 off your bill monthly and includes minimum voice minutes and internet bandwidth allowances. To enroll, you must use a participating carrier.

To qualify for the Lifeline, you need to be a participant of an eligible program such as Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, Supplemental Security Income, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, a Tribal program, or Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit Programs. You are also eligible if your income is 135% of the federal poverty level or below.

Network provider sign-ups. Some cell phone providers offer promotional phone discounts for new customers. You may need to pay off the phone before you can switch providers.

Trade-ins. You can trade your existing cell phone for a more user-friendly one at a discounted price. This option may also require you to stay with the same provider until the new phone is paid off.

What Features Should Cell Phones for Older People Have?

Easy-to-use cell phones for older people range from flip phones to smartphones. The phone that you choose should have features that improve accessibility for older adults, including:

  • Emergency one-touch buttons
  • Loud volumes for the hearing impaired 
  • Bright screens for the visually impaired
  • Large screen and zoom text
  • Talk texting, call captioning, and reading back text
  • AI phone assistant
  • Face or fingerprint recognition
  • Simple home screen
  • Camera magnifying glass

Cell phones vary according to the model, and some features need to be turned on from the settings menu. While this makes them very customizable, it also makes your decision harder as not all features may be advertised. You should browse through each phone's settings to see what options are available. 

Things to Consider When Buying a New Cell Phone

The many options when looking for a new phone, from types of cell phones to cell phone providers, can be overwhelming. Keep in mind your budget and the phone's features when making the following decisions. 

Picking a phone type. There are three general cell phone styles: flip phone, block phone, and smartphone. If you want to talk and text but aren’t interested in using the internet, then a flip or block phone is right for you. A smartphone will have the most features and can go online via a cellular network or using a Wi-Fi signal. 

Choosing a brand and model. Two major brands dominate the cell phone market and offer some of the most expensive models. However, alternative brands and older models with similar features are available for less money. It is also possible to buy a refurbished phone, but its condition can be unreliable when buying from lesser-known retailers. 

Finding a provider. There are three major network providers and many smaller ones, all offering various monthly plans. These plans are divided into levels of benefits that include data limits and subscription bonuses. 

Protecting your phone. If you choose a smartphone, you should protect it with a case to reduce the chances of damage if your phone gets dropped. Cases are customized to your phone's model, so be sure to buy one that fits. While screen protectors are an additional layer of protection against damage, they can also impede the sensitivity of smartphone touchscreens, thus inhibiting accessibility.

It can take a lot of time and thoughtful research to choose the right cell phone for older people. With the appropriate features, you will get the most use out of your phone and learn how to use it as a tool for everyday life.

Show Sources


AgingInPlace: "Cellphone Guide For Seniors."

Consumer Reports: "Best Low-Cost Cell Phone Plans," "Cell Phone Service Buying Guide," "Great Low-Priced Smartphones." 

Federal Communications Commission: "Lifeline Program for Low-Income Consumers," "Phone Theft in America."

International Conference on Human Aspects of IT for the Aged Population: “A Study of the Factors Affecting the Usability of Smart Phone Screen Protectors for the Elderly.” 

Journal of Systems and Software: "Mobile applications in an aging society: Status and trends."

Pew Research Center: "Mobile Fact Sheet."

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