How to choose a senior-friendly home telephone

By Jim Miller, Savvy Senior | Oct 21, 2009
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Dear Savvy Senior

Where is the best place to find a senior-friendly home telephone with big buttons and amplified sound? My 78-year-old mother has a difficult time hearing over the phone anymore, and her vision isn't so great either. What can you tell me?

Loud Talking Son

Dear Loud,

Senior-friendly telephones, also known as "amplified" and/or "big button" phones are a wonderful option for seniors who need some extra help with hearing, seeing and more. Here's what you should know.

How to choose

There are literally dozens of different kinds of senior-friendly phones on the market today that can meet almost any need. To help you cut through all the options and select a good fit for your mom, you need to take into account her needs and wants, including her:

Hearing: What type and degree of hearing loss does your mom have? (An audiologist can help here.) Most amplified telephones are sold with varying degrees of amplification and tone adjustments, so be sure the phone you choose accommodates her hearing loss. Also note that most amplified phones are hearing aid compatible and come with extra loud ringers and flashing ring indicators.

Vision: If low vision is a problem too, most corded amplified phones come with big buttons and high contrast numbers that make them easier to see. Some phones even offer a talking keypad that will announce the number as it's dialed.

Memory: Is remembering a problem? If so, check out the photo phones. Photo phones let you insert pictures of family members or friends over preprogrammed buttons, so your mom can simply press the picture of the person she wants to call and they're automatically dialed.

Voice: Does your mom speak so softly it's difficult to understand her? If so, there some amplified phones that can amplify outgoing speech as well as incoming sounds.

Safety: If your mom lives alone, you may want to choose an amplified phone with an emergency alert feature. These phones come with a neck pendant or wristband (SOS button) that she wears, so if she falls down and can't get up, she can press it and the phone's preprogrammed emergency numbers will automatically be dialed.

Preferences: There are many other options to consider, for example, would your mom prefer a corded or cordless amplified phone? While the cordless models provide the freedom to talk anywhere in the house, corded phones typically offer more user-friendly features. Or, would she like a phone with a built-in caller ID, speakerphone or answering machine?

Where to shop

While there are many companies that make and sell senior-friendly telephones, the leading supplier in the industry is Clarity, a division of Plantronics Inc. At ClarityProducts.com (or call 800-426-3738) you can find an impressive array of amplified, big button telephones that offer a wide variety of senior-friendly features, at prices ranging from $30 up to around $300. Other top makers include ClearSounds, Geemarc, Fanstel, Doro, Krown and GE. To find these and other amplified phone models, visit assistive hearing sites like www.teltex.com and www.independentliving.com.

Free phones

Another option you should check into is state funded telecommunications equipment distribution programs, which are available in about 30 states. If your mom's state has a program, you may be able to get her an amplified telephone from them for free. Check with her local telephone company or visit www.tedpa.org to find out what her state offers.

%Captioned phones%

If your mom has moderate to severe hearing loss another option to consider is CapTel. This is a captioned telephone service and customized phone that will let your mom listen to the caller, as well as read written, word-for-word captions of everything the caller is saying on the CapTel phone display window. To learn more or order a phone, go to www.captel.com (or call 888-269-7477) and click on the state your mom lives in. Most states offer them through Weitbrecht Communications, Inc. for $99, or your mom may qualify to get one for free.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.

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