How to choose a senior-friendly home telephone

Published 1:30 pm Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dear Savvy Senior,

Where is the best place to find a senior-friendly home telephone with big buttons and amplified sound? My 78-year-old mother has a difficult time hearing over the phone anymore, and her vision isnt so great either. What can you tell me?

Loud Talking Son
Dear Loud,

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Senior-friendly telephones, also known as amplified and/or big button phones are a wonderful option for seniors who need some extra help with hearing, seeing and more. Heres what you should know.
How to Choose
There are literally dozens of different kinds of senior-friendly phones on the market today that can meet almost any need. To help you cut through all the options and select a good fit for your mom, you need to take into account her needs and wants, including her:
Hearing: What type and degree of hearing loss does your mom have? (An audiologist can help here.) Most amplified telephones are sold with varying degrees of amplification and tone adjustments, so be sure the phone you choose accommodates her hearing loss. Also note that most amplified phones are hearing aid compatible and come with extra loud ringers and flashing ring indicators.
Vision: If low vision is a problem too, most corded amplified phones come with big buttons and high contrast numbers that make them easier to see. Some phones even offer a talking keypad that will announce the number as its dialed.
Memory: Is remembering a problem? If so, check out the photo phones. Photo phones let you insert pictures of family members or friends over preprogrammed buttons, so your mom can simply press the picture of the person she wants to call and theyre automatically dialed.
Voice: Does your mom speak so softly its difficult to understand her? If so, there some amplified phones that can amplify outgoing speech as well as incoming sounds.
Safety: If your mom lives alone, you may want to choose an amplified phone with an emergency alert feature. These phones come with a neck pendant or wristband (SOS button) that she wears, so if she falls down and cant get up, she can press it and the phones preprogrammed emergency numbers will automatically be dialed.
Preferences: There are many other options to consider, for example, would your mom prefer a corded or cordless amplified phone? While the cordless models provide the freedom to talk anywhere in the house, corded phones typically offer more user-friendly features. Or, would she like a phone with a built-in caller ID, speakerphone or answering machine?
Where to Shop
While there are many companies that make and sell senior-friendly telephones, the leading supplier in the industry is Clarity, a division of Plantronics Inc. At (or call 800-426-3738) you can find an impressive array of amplified, big button telephones that offer a wide variety of senior-friendly features, at prices ranging from $30 up to around $300. Other top makers include ClearSounds, Geemarc, Fanstel, Doro, Krown and GE. To find these and other amplified phone models, visit assistive hearing sites like and
Free Phones
Another option you should check into is state funded telecommunications equipment distribution programs, which are available in about 30 states. If your moms state has a program, you may be able to get her an amplified telephone from them for free. Check with her local telephone company or visit to find out what her state offers.
Captioned Phones
If your mom has moderate to severe hearing loss another option to consider is CapTel. This is a captioned telephone service and customized phone that will let your mom listen to the caller, as well as read written, word-for-word captions of everything the caller is saying on the CapTel phone display window. To learn more or order a phone, go to (or call 888-269-7477) and click on the state your mom lives in. Most states offer them through Weitbrecht Communications, Inc. for $99, or your mom may qualify to get one for free.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of The Savvy Senior book.