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3 Must-Have Cell Phones for Seniors

We vetted phones and picked the best options for your elderly parent

What if your parents don’t want a smartphone for video chatting, emailing or surfing the Internet but need just a simple cell phone? No problem — such phones still exist. We looked at several and picked the three below as worthy options.

None of our choices requires a contract or has a cancellation fee. And they all offer large print, speed dial, a built-in camera and high-volume levels for older ears.

1. Doro PhoneEasy 626 from Consumer Cellular

The burgundy, silver or black flip phone handily displays the time on the outside of the phone. Black, raised buttons on a white background make it easy to see and dial, look at or send photos or text. It’s also hearing aid-compatible.

A visual ring indicator works even when the phone is closed. Push the emergency help button on the back and it alerts your contact — family or friends. It uses GPS technology so when Mom calls 911, it pinpoints her location. One snazzy feature: video recording. If you want email, though, you’re out of luck.

A long-distance family caregiver can change settings from afar (i.e.: picking a new ring tone, managing photos and downloading apps).

Near the end of the year, a Doro Android smartphone will debut. It will give designees (a family member, most likely) the ability to make changes to the phone remotely. A long-distance family caregiver, for instance, can change settings from afar (i.e.: increasing the ring tone or picking a new one, managing photos and downloading apps).

Phyllis Pottorff-Albrecht is on the Colorado roads constantly with her Doro. The 73-year-old minister travels 200 miles to her parents’ farm to help with the harvest. She’s restoring another house 30 miles from there. With one son in Nicaragua and the other in California, Pottorff-Albrecht demands something dependable. “I needed a magnifying glass to use the cellphone I had before,” she says.

The phone costs $50; service plans range from $10 to $20 per month.

2. The Jitterbug from GreatCall  

(Full disclosure: I have done work for GreatCall. I have included its phones because they are among the best.)

The two models, made by Samsung, are the Jitterbug5 flip phone and the smartphone Jitterbug Touch3. Both have a bright color screen and an easy-peasy navigation button. The Jitterbug5, in fact, has a yes/no navigation system.

You can also opt for Urgent Care. It connects the user via phone with a nurse or doctor 24/7 who can give advice or even prescribe medications over the phone.

GreatCall’s caregiver app lets the adult child log onto a smartphone, tablet or computer to make sure all is well with Mom, and check her location via GPS technology. With the 5Star Medical Alert feature, an emergency button sends her immediately to a National Academy of Emergency Dispatchers agent who will help (not just for a medical emergency, but if she is lost or feels unsafe).

The $99 Jitterbug5 phone comes in red and blue. Service plans range from $14.99/month to $49.99/month, with text options (but no email). Both the Jitterbug5 and the Jitterbug Touch3 have a one-time $35 setup fee.

The Jitterbug Touch3 smartphone has more bells and whistles. The $149.99 phone has a full-size screen. Besides making and receiving calls, it lets you text, email, surf the Internet and download apps. All those commands are simple to read on one screen.

Want to check your heart rate? The Touch3 can do that with an app. (Attach the heart monitor to the back of the smartphone to record an electrocardiogram and track trends for the family and the doctor.)

Fifty minutes of talk time costs $14.99/month; 400 minutes is $19.99/month. The Jitterbug Touch3 requires a data plan that starts at $2.49/month.

Last September, when her old cellphone died, Amy Kruse’s mother-in-law was having some memory issues. She drives and lives alone. “We were concerned she might get lost,” says Kruse. The Annapolis, Md., software company CEO chose the Jitterbug5. “It has big numbers, a no-nonsense interface and a flip phone style she was used to,” says Kruse. For $35/month, her mother-in-law has the 5Star Service, Urgent Care and the GreatCall caregiver app.

Kruse and her husband remotely programmed the phone to her most frequent locations: church, the hair salon, choir practice and another son’s house. The couple logs on frequently to see where she is without bothering her.

“The phone is about maintaining her independence and our peace of mind,” says Kruse.

3. Snapfon ezTWO

It’s billed as “the cellphone for seniors” and for many, it’s their first mobile phone. Snapfon ezTWO comes with a speaking keyboard. There’s an extra SOS Emergency Alert option, as well as a 24/7 monitoring service. Holding down the emergency button on the back produces a don’t-mess-with-me siren-like sound. (You can disable that feature.) As soon as users press the button, it sends a typed text to designated contacts; among them can be a monitoring center or 911.

Vernita Miller bought one for her mother. She thinks that “it looks like a Blackberry with big buttons.” Four years ago, Miller’s mother, now 67, had a stroke that left her paralyzed on one side and with poor vision. She lives in a New Jersey nursing home where it is nearly impossible for her to have outside phone conversations. The Snapfon has solved that problem. Miller’s mother speaks to her every day, talks to her doctors and has learned to text with her grandchildren.

The phone is available through Snapfon for $19.95, with a monthly $9.95/month service plan for 60 minutes or $29.95 for unlimited. If you don’t want the Snapfon service plan (you can go through AT&T or T-Mobile), the phone is $79.99.

Other phones that can work for seniors: the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy’s easy mode.

Are there others that you like? Speak up!

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