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  • By Lisa Jevens

Swap your dumbphone for a smartphone

If you are intrigued by the convenience of having a cellphone, answering machine, GPS, CD collection, daily newspaper, email, camera, video camera, datebook, audiobooks, radio, TV, photo albums, record collection and more in the palm of your hand, you may be ready for a smartphone.

Imagine going to the store and never forgetting your grocery list because you jotted it down in your phone. Never missing medication because your phone alarm reminded you. Capturing the flash of a grandchild’s smile or sounds of her first concert at a moment’s notice.

Checking weather with a touch of a button and receiving emergency alerts wherever you are. Keeping up with the news back home while traveling. Finding a good restaurant in a pinch, or the best price on gas. Getting directions when you are lost. Calling other countries for free over the Internet. Listening to your favorite radio station without leaving your chair.

A smartphone can change your life if you are willing to put in a little time to learn how it can work for you.

Ken Anderson, 84, a resident of Smith Village in Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood, made the jump a few years ago when his son surprised him with an iPhone 5 for Christmas.

A former electrician, Anderson was ready for the challenge. He had assistance from family and figured out a lot on his own.

“It was a move up into the future,” he says. “I like the communications and especially the ability to text my kids.”

Now he takes full advantage of his smartphone’s capabilities: GPS, an app to locate low-price gasoline, texting, email, weather, notes, reminders, maps, calling, a flashlight, a dictionary, a thesaurus and more.

“I can take a picture of a check and deposit it in my bank,” he says. “If I want to find a restaurant, I use Urbanspoon.”

He even has downloaded Uber, but hasn’t used this crowdsourced ride service yet.

As Anderson found out, a smartphone makes it easier to get by in today’s world, keeps you more organized, connected, safer, informed, and entertained. It also lessens your dependency on others to bail you out of situations, retrieve information you need, remind you of things, or give you directions.

Anderson is certainly in the minority of folks in his age group who use smartphones. According to a Pew Research Center study, in 2013 only 18 percent of adults 65 and older had them. But experts predict those numbers will rise, partly because the technology is meeting seniors where they are.

For example, the GreatCall Touch3 is a $149 no contract smartphone designed from the ground up for seniors. It’s made by the company that created the Jitterbug, a popular cellphone for seniors.

The Touch3’s main screen has only phone, text messages, email and camera. There is no swiping necessary. Instead of large icons with small fonts, there are small icons with large letters explaining what the icon means, such as “Internet.”

GreatCall CEO David Inns says customer service is what makes the Touch3 so successful for seniors.

“We walk them through texting, email setup, etc., more than a typical phone company. Our customer service reps are specialized to train an older person on technology,” he says.

The Touch3 also has a button on the main screen that connects directly to a live operator for emergencies.

If you buy a regular smartphone, there are ways to “dumb it down,” making it easier to see and use. Some phones come with this option built in, so ask about it when selecting a phone. There are also launcher apps you can download such as Wiser that bring the primary functions to the forefront to simplify use.

Phablets are another great option. They are a cross between a tablet and a smartphone. (Think of a small iPad on which you can make calls.) To write on them, you can tap on them or use a stylus.

If unsure whether you can physically use a smartphone/ phablet, there are ways to make it more accessible. The sensitivity of the touch can be adjusted. Voice recognition technology has improved, so you can simply tell the phone what you want to do. Or you can dictate an email or text message instead of typing.


• When you buy the phone, make sure there is a trial period or return policy if it doesn’t work out.

• Keep your old cellphone just in case you want to go back to it.

• Ask about training classes and customer support options.

• Ask if the phone has an emergency call button or can be configured with one.

• Take another person with you when buying the phone, so you don’t get upsold on a phone or plan that is more than you need.

• Make sure a tech-savvy friend or family member can configure it to meet your needs.

• If all you want to do is make phone calls, save your money and stick with a traditional cellphone.

Originally published in the Chicago Tribune Prime Time senior living section on May 15, 2015.

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