Setting up an iPhone for your nonagenerian mother

Mom’s iPhone 5C started acting wonky — the touch screen was difficult to get to respond, even after a hard reset.  Then my cousin called me to tell me that mom’s phone kept giving an error about “wait 5 minutes and try again” — still not sure exactly what was not working.  But in any case, we decided to get her a new phone.  And then needed to figure out how to optimize a new iPhone 7 for her.

We had seen this post about how to optimize a laptop for your nonagenerian grandmother, but no corresponding piece for the iPhone.

First thing:  she can’t hold the 7plus — it’s too big for her hands.

Like John Krauss, I didn’t want to have to remember what to do when the phone somehow got reset.  Or the iOS upgraded.   So here’s what to do.  After you get the phone, go to Settings and make a bunch of changes from the defaults in iOS 10.2 — listed more or less in the order they show up:

  • Turn off Bluetooth
  • Consider turning off most notifications
  • Under General > Accessibility:
    • Larger Text > ON  — and then determine the size you need
    • Button Shapes > ON  —  this will show the hot spots as a shaded button (easier for folks to see and accurately touch)
    • Increase Contrast > Reduce Transparency > ON.  Consider darkening colors.
    • Reduce Motion > ON
    • AssistiveTouch > ON
    • Touch Accommodations — look at the options and consider changing the Hold Duration and more importantly Hold Repeat
    • 3-D Touch > OFF  (the average user has issues with this, the elderly user will not be able to do this correctly at all, and will inadvertently do things like delete stuff!)
    • Shake to Undo > OFF
    • Vibration > ON
    • Hearing Devices —
      • If you have a iPhone Hearing Aid, pair it here (turn on Bluetooth and ignore the recommendation above)
      • Turn on Hearing Aid Mode if appropriate (this should help with the squeal issue)
    • TTY — On only if you use a TTY device
    • LED Flash for Alerts > ON
    • Phone Noise Cancellation > ON
  • Restrictions > ENABLE, create a passcode (remember, it needs to be different than your unlock code), and then:
    • Consider disabling Siri
    • Do disable Installing/Deleting Apps and In-App Purchases
    • Lock down Location Services — AFTER you set up things like Find My Friends/Find My Phone if you want that turned on.
  • Under Sounds & Haptics:
    • Vibrate on Ring, Vibrate on Silent
    • Turn OFF Change with Buttons (it was far too easy for my mother to grab the phone and hit the buttons and then turn off the ringer).  Note that this doesn’t completely lock down those volume buttons — this should keep the ringer volume up, but not the actual sound volume.
    • Turn OFF System Haptics


Decide if you want to have some of the other remote options available or not — like AirDrop.  We opted to leave that on, so we could both share photos to her and receive photos from her when we were together.  We moved lots of the “standard” apps into folders and moved them to the second home screen so they weren’t distracting and she was far less likely to open them by mistake.


One week with the new phone and she is less frustrated, which means I’m getting fewer random messages.  Which means we’re both happier.