Everything you need to fix on your elderly parent’s smartphone
Everything you need to fix on your elderly parent’s smartphone
This is a tip for grown-up kids whose parents or other older relatives use a smartphone, but anyone can try these maintenance tasks on their own devices.
“The first thing I do is check for what I call check engine lights,” says Abbie Richie, founder and CEO of the tech support company. Senior Savvy. “I’m looking for red notification badges, especially in the Settings app.”
Apple and Google release regular minor updates and annual major updates to their smartphone operating systems, iOS and Android. Don’t avoid them, even if you’re worried about adding confusing new features. They often include key security patches and bug fixes. If you perform a major operating system update, take the time to walk them through the new look and options.
Set your phone to automatically run software updates in the future.
Delete and reorganize apps
Go page by page and ask your parents what they use and what they don’t – you’d be surprised how many of us have apps installed that we don’t remember. Delete anything that looks suspicious, fake, or confusing.
Move the apps they use most to the front screen on their device. Richie recommends putting their four most-used apps on the dock at the bottom of the screen and putting any other big ones in the top left or right corner. Move any apps you don’t use often but are useful to have into clearly labeled folders, then store those folders on the last page of your home screen.
Ask them if there’s something they want to do on their phone but can’t, like online banking. Install new apps if they need them, but keep it simple and walk them through setting up everything that requires a login. Write down all new passwords!
Make the screen easier to see
Our eyesight deteriorates as we age, and even the largest phone can be difficult to read. Smartphones are crowded accessibility settings that you can dive into, but let’s start by making everything a little bigger and brighter.
In Settings, increase the text size and make it bold. You can turn on a setting like iOS’s Display Zoom, which makes everything a little bigger. Finally, turn the brightness all the way up and show them how to control it themselves. Experiment with switching between light and dark modes and see if one is easier for them to see.
Richie also suggests giving your parents more time before their phones are locked. Instead of 30 seconds or one minute, boost the auto-lock between 3 and 5 minutes.
Turn on emergency and health settings
Add any medical conditions and allergies to your phone’s built-in emergency settings. On your iPhone, go to Medical ID in your health settings. On your Android device, you can go to the Security and emergency settings. Add emergency contacts, including people who live nearby as well as next of kin. Make it so that this information can be seen in an emergency, even if the phone is locked.
Many smartphones have built-in health monitoring options. On the iPhone, for example, you can turn on a notification for walking stability, which could be useful to avoid falls in the future. If they want you or someone else to be more involved in their health, you can set up health information sharing.
If you are worried about your parents falls prey to misinformation or when you’re radicalized online, you can make a few small changes to make things better. Choose a reputable news or app and move it to a prominent place on their home screen. Apple News and Google News do a decent job of including a wide variety of trusted news websites. Put a shortcut to a fact-checking site like Snopes on their home screen so they can quickly check any stories or social media posts they come across. Go through their social media accounts with them, if they let you. Ask if you can unfollow any sites or influencers that sell misinformation or propaganda.
Reduce fraud attempts
The elderly are a popular target for scammers. You can adjust several settings to reduce retries. We guide you through them all here, but start by sending unknown calls directly to voicemail (Settings → Phone → Mute Unknown Callers on iPhone), filtering out texts from unknown senders, and turning on any spam filters or detections offered by their phone or carrier.
Go through their Facebook and Instagram friend lists and remove any fake accounts, including people they don’t know and accounts impersonating other people. You can find more settings to change on their smartphone and messaging apps here.
Check out their subscriptions
Make sure they aren’t paying for anything by accident, like an app they subscribed to or a bogus “tech support” service. Go through theirs Android or iOS subscriptions first, then ask if they want to review their recent bank statement.
Turn on automatic backups, especially for photos. If they have a full phone, you can set it to delete photos or videos from the device to free up space. If their device is ever lost, stolen or broken, they’ll still have all their data and memories ready to go. You can find more storage instructions Google Drive here and Apple’s iCloud here.
Navigating a smartphone screen can be more difficult as people lose dexterity and their vision deteriorates. Android and iPhone have great built-in shortcuts that can help seniors: voice assistants. Walk them through how to activate Siri or Google Assistant, write down a list of initial commands they’ll get used to, like dictating text.
Let your parents show you what they need
“I always ask my clients, ‘show me what you mean,'” says Richie. Something that may be difficult to explain over the phone may be clearer if they walk you through the process. For example, Richie had one client who struggled with sending text messages. It turns out that they held their finger on the send arrow for too long, they accidentally opened the special effects option in the messages.
If your parent is dealing with any kind of cognitive decline, you can discuss using stronger controls on their devices so you can remotely access or block things. You can also ask them to share logins and passwords or store them somewhere easily accessible. This should be done with their consent and full understanding of what you will be able to access.
Write down everything new you say to your parents so they have something to refer to. If you live too far away to provide constant tech support, find a trusted local computer store that makes house calls or substitute another tech-savvy relative. Richie says to be prepared for more phone calls and questions, and that’s fine.
“Be fully prepared that they may need you to show them how to do it over and over again, with love.”
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