Keeping Seniors Connected

Cellphones and TVs are necessities for the elderly, say two groups.

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Most seniors can remember a time before their family purchased a television. The first commercial sets hit stores in 1928, but it took over a decade for them to become household items. And even 20-somethings can recall life before every public gathering was interrupted by someone's cellphone belting out pop music. But two organizations are worried about our elders' access to mobile phones and television.

Mobile security. Cellphones can be a lifeline for seniors living alone. A single button push can connect anyone who has experienced an accident, a sudden health problem, or a crime situation with help. The nonprofit Seniors Coalition says that older consumers can best take advantage of the "cellphone security blanket effect" by wearing a cellphone whenever it's not being charged—even around the house—and preprogramming the phone with key numbers to emergency services and their doctor, pharmacy, and adult children. Seniors who plan to use the phone only for emergencies can avoid pricey cellphone contracts that start at $30 to $40 per month by using low-cost prepaid cellphones for as little as $15 and prepurchased minutes for $20 or less for three months. U.S. News technology blogger David LaGesse recently tested four cellphones for seniors.

"Older Americans and their adult children owe it to themselves to get an inexpensive prepaid or other cellphone and then to use it as a literal lifeline in emergency situations," says "Grandma" Flora Green, national spokesperson for the Seniors Coalition. "In some cases, it can literally make a life-or-death difference in the case of an accident or a case of crime."

Television access. The nation's transmission of television signals will switch from analog to digital on Feb. 17, 2009. Another group, the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, at its annual conference addressed how this change will disproportionately affect the elderly.

Seniors who watch free, over-the-air broadcasts and want to continue to get shows will have to upgrade to a new digital television, subscribe to cable or satellite TV, or purchase a digital converter box to attach to the existing television for $55 to $75. Discount coupons for $40 off the price of a converter box are available from the government.

Readers, are TV service and cellphones now necessities for seniors?