Telephone Safety for Seniors

A cell phone or a traditional land line allows your elderly family member to get in touch with friends, family and emergency services quickly and easily. Although phones are a necessity for most elderly people, they also create a number of risks for trusting, unsuspecting seniors.

A bit of planning and a few important safety precautions will ensure that your loved one enjoys the benefits of a phone, without the risk.

  • Purchase a senior-friendly cell phone for your elderly family member. Help him understand the basic functions and encourage him to carry the phone at all times. Inexpensive, limited-use options are available.
  • Program important phone numbers into your loved one’s cell phone. Include family members and trusted neighbors, as well as 9-1-1 and other emergency numbers. If your family member uses a land line, post emergency numbers clearly near the phone.
  • Consider an amplified phone for a senior with hearing loss. Seniors who are able to hear phone conversations clearly can communicate with friends and family, which reduces anxiety, helps prevent loneliness and reduces the chances of “mis-hearing” critical instructions from a doctor or pharmacist. Simple, low-tech phones are available, often with large buttons that make dialing easier.
  • People age 60 and over were raised to be polite, and seniors—especially women—are often targets of telemarketing scams such as low-cost health care products, free prizes, home-improvement offers, inexpensive vacations or “no-risk” investments. Reassure your loved one that it’s perfectly okay to hang up if she receives unwanted phone calls or if she feels uncomfortable for any reason.
  • Seniors should never trust unsolicited calls. Remind your aging family member to never reveal his name, age, address, bank information or marital status unless he is absolutely sure he knows and trusts the caller. Legitimate businesses rarely ask for personal information over the phone unless your loved one initiates the call.
  • If a caller asks, “Who is this?” encourage your family member to respond, “Whom are you calling?” Your loved one should be reminded to hang up immediately if the caller refuses to answer or offers an inappropriate response, or if the business is unfamiliar.
  • If your loved one has trouble saying “No” to telemarketers, a simple answering machine with caller ID and large, clear numbers may be a good investment. Help your elderly family member program the machine, then advise her to let the machine pick up unidentified numbers.
  • Call the police or the phone company if your loved one receives threatening or harassing phone calls, or if he frequently receives “wrong number” calls.