Help Aging Parents: Phones and Frustrations

Automation, Confusing Menus, “On Hold” Forever, Can You Talk to Real People?

To help older people age well, we know how important it is to stay connected. Face-to-face is great; phones are next best. That said, making a phone call to get information, check billing status etc. is no longer simple. Today’s automated technology can frustrate and discourage older people, undermining feelings of self-reliance–increasing their dependence on adult children to handle “stuff” for them. Does this help parents age well?

Telephoning to Get Information–Complicated

Haven’t we all experienced it –first the menu, next a series of instructions, then often a long hold which clearly the machine doesn’t mind–but what about us humans on the other end?

For older generations who spent most of their life talking to a person, being subjected to a menu of endless, seemingly unsuitable or quickly-forgotten options is frustrating and confusing… No doubt even worse for those with some hearing or memory loss.

Help Has Arrived
The Ask The Experts column in AARP’s March 2011 bulletin provides it. (Click link and maximize to see column in readable-size font.)

“How can I quickly reach a live person when calling a customer service number?” is the third (and last) question in the column. AARP’s Experts introduce three . coms that come to the rescue. With companies’ customer service numbers (answered by human beings) and the “how-to’s” of bypassing automated prompts to reach live representatives, there is help for aging parents….and us.

1. provides a long, alphabetized list of companies’ phone numbers where human beings answer the call. I clicked the link; be certain to scroll to the very end for 8 additional suggestions about bypassing prompts and reaching a human being.

2. displays a list of popular companies’ phone numbers, a long alphabetical list of companies, or you can type in a company’s name. You’ll be able to see average wait time, user reviews, customer satisfaction ratings for phone accessibility among other things.

3. prevents you from being placed on “hold” and is another free service. Clicking the link brings up the simple-to-follow instructions. Interesting details in this NY Times Business Section article.

The above should help aging parents who use computers.  For those who don’t, we can print out a list of company phone numbers our parents often use (where humans answer the phone), along with the 8 suggestions found on  And–oh, yes, won’t this information help us too?

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