Emergencies happen all the time that aren’t of the natural variety, but they are no less critical when they involve an immediate family member needing help. It could be something so simple as your daughter missing the bus after school, or more challenged like your retirement-age mom calling about a flat tire somewhere far away from her house. Regardless, she will be thankful that you found her the best emergency cell phone for seniors. And here’s why.
Baby boomers are regarded as those born between 1946 and 1964. The retirement of this generation means the country will be growing in unfamiliar economic directions, but less reported is the effect on technology. Boomers will be the first generation to retire with cell phones. Because of this we will likely see significant changes in wireless accessibility options. Of those that began retiring in 2013, barely 73 percent had a cell phone, and less than one-third of that group had a smartphone.
Mobile phone penetration rates among seniors 65 and older are expected to grow to 84 percent by 2018, nearly half of which will own smartphones. While this does sound like a promising gain for smartphones among seniors, it’s actually a severe reduction by half compared to the 55 to 64 age group just a year before. Industry experts anticipate that, as baby boomers reach 65, 47 percent of them will swap their smartphone for a feature phone, which will likely be used as little more than an emergency mobile phone.
There will be a few surprises for baby boomers related to their coming phone downgrades. First will, of course, be in the amount of time that they spend not actually using it. According to the Pew Research Center, the amount of time seniors spend on the phone decreases to a median three calls per day as they age. The amount of text messaging is also likely to significantly decrease. Two-thirds of seniors do not use text messaging on a typical day. One-third however do use their cell phone’s reminder features such as for wakeup alarms or medication reminders. The phone becomes more of a utilitarian compliment and less of a social commodity.
There are of course many speculative reasons for this migration of technologies. As baby boomers age into retirement, there will be a smaller social safety net as there will be a smaller working population to support them. Smartphones traditionally have high price points with expensive data plans. A feature phone, however, can be purchased and activated for the low cost of an added line on a family member's plan or by purchasing minutes on a pre-paid service.
Another cause for migration is usability. As they get older, baby boomers will encounter age related wear on their bodies. The National Institute of Health – National Eye Institute reports that age related vison loss starts as early as 40 and that everyone 50 years and older should get regular exams. While the causes for vision loss are many, the most common is age-related macular degeneration (AMD). As many as 11 million Americans currently have some form of this condition and the risk of getting it increases to 30 percent by the age of 75. Smartphones normally do feature some type of speech command capability, but a smartphone's usefulness beyond calling is limited when you aren't able to read onscreen text. A few feature phone do offer speech functions that are better capable of serving visually impaired users.
Hearing loss, however, has a higher rate of incidence within the same group. The National Institute of Health – National Institution for Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) reports that one in three people between the ages of 65 and 74 will experience hearing loss. That number jumps up to half at age 75. While this is a startlingly high number, it is proportionate to a 2003 Hearing Aid Compatibility Act (HAC) amendment that requires a third of all manufacture's handsets and half of any nationwide wireless carrier’s handsets to be rated as hearing aid compatible.
Hearing aid compatible mobile phones are very useful. According to the HAC, they must be rated on two scales, so each gets a rating of one to four and either an M or a T rating. A device with an M rating denotes its ability to suppress incoming interference from other electronic devices. A device with a T rating indicates its effectiveness with telecoil type hearing aids. Devices with a 4 rating have the best compatibility, but those with a 3 rating are only rated as being compliant the guidelines set forth by the American National Standards Institute. Anything below that is not worth reporting and manufacturers will instead advise you that their devices will likely interfere with hearing aids.
An informal survey of two nationwide carriers found that a large portion of their inventories were hearing aid compatible. From their listed compliant devices, only one-third were feature phones. A smaller number of those were speech capable. Most were dual-band smartphones, which seems counterintuitive to earlier predictions that 47 percent of users will be abandoning their smartphones for cheaper phone plans.
Wireless accessibility for aging baby boomers will likely be the next frontier of technology. While many innovations already exist, industry adoption of accessibility is slow and somewhat inconsistent as most of the innovations that benefit aging users are limited to smartphones. Existing devices do well at connecting friends, family and caregivers in a concerted support effort, but the field is still a small one.
In their time, baby boomers were a formidable economic force whose buying habits influenced the global market on everything from clothing to cars to electronics. It was their need for novelty that drove the smartphone market to ubiquitous levels. So of course it will be interesting to see if their need for accessibility will help them leverage another sea change on the wireless industry.