Ten tips to set up an iPhone for your ageing parent

Today, it is almost impossible to manage day-to-day life without a smartphone. They are an integral part of our modern world and can be immensely helpful and sometimes lifesaving when it comes to supporting our ageing parents and relatives – from allowing us to stay in close contact to helping us monitor their health and wellbeing.

But, as anyone with an ageing parent or elderly relative knows, smartphones can also be an enormous source of frustration. Helping our ageing parents with their smartphones can cause even the most patient of us to lose our cool.  

Why do older people struggle with smartphones?

Many older people can be resistant to using new technology or may feel overwhelmed by the various features of a smartphone. They may also have physical or cognitive challenges that make it difficult for them to use the device, such as difficulty remembering usernames and passwords. As a result, they may become confused, frustrated or anxious when trying to use a smartphone, and this can be frustrating and challenging for those of us helping them. In addition, elderly people may have limited experience with technology or have ‘technophobia’, due to negative experiences with it in the past. They often need help to learn how to use a smartphone, requiring our time and patience which can be difficult for when we have busy schedules and other responsibilities.

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What is the best way to teach an older person to use a smartphone?

Teaching your parent or elderly relative to use a smartphone requires a lot of patience and compassion.  One of the best ways to make the process less challenging from the start is to ensure their smartphone is set up in a way that makes it easier for them to use. 

In addition, some smartphones may be better suited for elderly people than others, depending on their specific needs and preferences. When helping your parent choose the right smartphone for them, you might want to consider:

  1. Physical design: Look for a smartphone with a larger screen and buttons that are easy to see and press. Some smartphones also have physical buttons or a simple interface that may be easier for elderly people to use.
  2. Operating system: Consider choosing a smartphone with an operating system that is user-friendly and easy to navigate. For example, Apple’s iOS operating system is generally considered to be more user-friendly than Android, which may be more suitable for elderly people who are new to smartphones.
  3. Accessibility features: Many smartphones have built-in accessibility features that can make them easier to use for elderly people. For example, some phones have a feature that allows the user to control the phone with voice commands, or a feature that increases the size of the text on the screen.

It’s best to go to a store and try out a few different models to see which one works best for them. And don’t forget to get a good protective case and screen protector before you start! There are some phone cases which have a cord attached, allowing your parent to wear the phone around their neck. These are great for making the phone easily accessible and helping to prevent your parents from misplacing their phone all the time.

10 ways to customise an iPhone for your ageing parent

How you set up and customise the phone will of course vary, depending on what brand and model of phone your parent has.

Here we share 10 useful tips on how you can set up an iPhone to make it easier for an older person to use.

1. Simplify the Home Screen

The Home screen is of course the first thing they see when they turn on their iPhone, so it’s important to keep it as simple and uncluttered as possible. A clean, neatly organised Home screen will make using the phone a lot less intimidating and confusing.

  • Remove any unnecessary apps or organise them into folders to reduce the number of icons on the screen.
  • Put the apps they use most (e.g., Phone, WhatsApp, Contacts) on the first Home screen and move all the others to the second and third screens.
  • Use a wallpaper with high contrast colours that are easy to see and avoid ones with small text or intricate patterns.

2. Add Widgets

Widgets are really handy for elderly people, as they allow them to quickly see and access important information and perform tasks without having to open an app.  Useful widgets for older people include widgets for their weather and music apps, and their key contact (most probably you!).  To create a key contact widget:

  • Press and hold on an empty area of the home screen until the apps begin to jiggle.
  • Tap the “+” button in the top left corner of the screen.
  • Scroll through the list of available widgets and tap on the “Contact” widget.
  • Use the slider at the bottom of the screen to adjust the size of the widget.
  • Tap “Add Widget” to add the widget to the home screen.
  • Tap the widget to customise it and select the specific contact you want to add.
  • Press the home button to stop the apps from jiggling and view the new widget on the home screen.

Check out this Apple Support video for a visual step by step guide and more information.

3. Increase the Text Size

Many elderly people may have difficulty reading small text, so it’s a good idea to increase the text size. To do this, go to Settings > Display & Brightness > Text Size and adjust the slider to the desired size.  You can make the text size even bigger using the Accessibility settings.

4. Customise Accessibility Settings

The iPhone has a number of accessibility features that can be helpful for elderly people, such as the ability to increase the contrast or invert colours on the screen. To customise these settings, go to Settings > Accessibility and explore the various options available.

You can also customise the accessibility settings app by app. Watch this Apple Support video to learn more.

It’s a good idea to add Accessibility features to the Control Centre on the iPhone as well, to make it easy for them to access, such as the Magnifier or slider for Text size.

Check out this Apple Support video for more information on adding Accessibility features to the Control Centre.

5. Add photos or avatars to key contacts

Customizing their key contacts with a photo or avatar will make it much easier for your ageing parent or relative to navigate their contacts and recognise who is calling.

To add photos to contacts:

  • Open the “Contacts” app.
  • Tap on the contact you want to customise.
  • Tap “Edit” in the top right corner of the screen.
  • Scroll down to the “Add Photo” section and tap “Add Photo” to choose a photo or avatar for the contact.
  • Use the cropping tool to adjust the size and placement of the photo or avatar.
  • Tap “Done” to save the changes.

6. Customise ring tones

Customizing the ringtones on an iPhone can be a helpful way to make it easier for an elderly person to know when they are receiving a call or text message, and who is calling. It’s important to choose a ringtone that is loud enough for an elderly person to hear, even if they are in another room or if there is background noise. A distinctive ringtone will also be easier for them to recognize as their own. To set a ringtone on an iPhone, go to Settings > Sounds > Ringtones and select the desired ringtone. When choosing which ringtone to use, consider the following:

  • Avoid using music or sound effects: While music and sound effects can be fun, they may not be as easy for an elderly person to recognise as a traditional phone ring. Instead, consider using a classic phone ringtone or a simple tone that is easy to distinguish.
  • Set different ringtones for different contacts: If your parent has a lot of contacts, it can be helpful to set different ringtones for each one. This way, they will know who is calling or texting just by the ringtone. To do this, go to the contacts app, select a contact, tap “Edit” in the top right-hand corner, scroll down to select ‘Ringtone’ and choose an appropriate ring tone based on the guidance above.Top of FormBottom of Form

7. Use a simple passcode

Older people generally hate passwords and find them hard to remember. This means they often resort to using a password that is unsecure, such as 1123456 or similar. For obvious security reasons, this is not a good idea.  That said, a simple passcode can make it easier for an elderly person to unlock their phone.  The date of an important event in their lives is a good option. Alternatively, depending on the model, you can set up Touch ID so they can unlock the phone with their fingerprint. However, sometimes older people have difficulty with this as fingerprints become less defined in old age and harder for scanners to read.  

8. Set up Find My Phone

The Find My Phone app a great feature not only for finding your parent’s phone if it is missing, but for you to also be able to see where they are if you are worried about them (particularly helpful if they have early dementia). To set up Find My Phone and Location Sharing, with their permission, go open the Find My app, and select People.  Hit the ‘+’ sign to the right of where it says People and select ‘Share My Location’.  Then choose your name from the list, press ‘Send’, and then select the option ‘Share Indefinitely’.

Check out this Apple Support video for a visual guide and more information on setting up Find My.

9. Set up Medical ID

In case of a medical emergency, it’s a good idea to add critical health information, such as blood type, allergies or medical conditions, and emergency contact details, to ensure first responders have life-saving information and know who to contact, even when the phone is locked. This can be done via the Health App.

To set up their Medical ID:

  • Open the Health App.
  • Scroll down to Set Up Your Medical ID and press ‘Get Started’.
  • Enter the information you want to include on the list.  This includes your parent or relatives name, medical conditions, medications, blood type, and primary language, and emergency contact details.  Ensure that the ‘Show When Locked’ tab is on.
  • Tap “Done” to save the changes.

The emergency information will be accessible from the lock screen of the iPhone by tapping “Emergency” in the bottom left corner of the screen and then tapping “Medical ID.” It is a good idea to make sure your parent knows how to access this information in case of an emergency.

10. Enable AssistiveTouch

AssistiveTouch is a feature that makes it easy for people to navigate and perform multiple actions on their iPhone by tapping one “virtual” button that hovers over the screen, instead of having to navigate the phone to find and press the individual buttons. It can be used for things like accessing the control centre, going back to the home-screen, controlling volume, and can be customised to include the actions and gestures most frequently used by the user. It can also be used to perform gestures that can be difficult for older people to do, such as pinch-to-zoom.

To enable AssistiveTouch, go to Settings > Accessibility > Touch > AssistiveTouch and toggle the switch to the on position.

Then check out this Apple Support video for good step-by-step visual guidance on how to use and customise AssistiveTouch for your parent or relative’s needs.

In summary

Hopefully these tips will make it much easier for your parent to use their iPhone and get the most out of it (and will help you to have some peace of mind and less frustration).  It’s worth taking the time to teach them to use the phone, and – depending on their age and ability – it may require more than one session to ensure they get the hang of it.  They can also attend a 1-hour ‘Getting Started’ session at an Apple Store. Click here to find out more Today at Apple – Apple. Good luck!


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