Empowering occupational therapy practitioners with a playbook of functional tasks to use with their geriatric clients

Using a Cell Phone

Using a Cell Phone

I have spent a lot of my time lately working with long-term care residents. Due to concerns about COVID-19 and measure that were implemented for social distancing and infection control, leisure and social interaction routines have been disrupted throughout the building. As a result, many of the long-term residents I have been working with have experienced disruptions in their engagement in meaningful occupations.

One of the residents that I work with is very social. He enjoys regular visits from his family, musical performances, and games with his peers. He has been particularly affected by the social distancing measures implemented. He identified a goal of learning to use his smart phone to connect with his family and friends. Specifically, he wants to be able to access and use Facebook, make a phone call, and watch YouTube videos so that he can discuss them later with his friends. We have been working to address this goal in our OT sessions.


Facilitate engagement in meaningful roles and activities; Train client in use of assistive technology and compensatory strategies; Develop executive functioning skills


Great for 1:1 treatment – Good for Group/Concurrent Treatment (if you have clients who have similar goals and abilities)

Time Frame

15 minutes-several treatment sessions

Materials Required

  • Cell Phone
  • Paper/Pen (if developing visual cue such as a list of directions)


  • Determine what model of phone the client has; research the model if needed to be prepared to demonstrate instructions
  • Review accessibility resources available for the device, websites, or platforms the client wants to use


  1. With the client, determine 2-3 activities the client wants or needs to be able to do using the device.
  2. Ask the client to attempt to complete each of those activities, assessing their current ability to complete the activities as well as general cognitive performance skills.
  3. Select one activity. Ask the client to attempt to complete the activity while you analyze what steps they can complete, what they need help with, and their cognitive performance skills.
  4. Based on your analysis, train client on specific steps to complete the activity and/or compensatory strategies as needed.
  5. Repeat with the other activities the client wants or needs to be able to do using the device.
  6. Reassess the client’s performance doing the trained activities during future activities to ensure carryover of training and success of compensatory strategies, retraining as necessary.

Special Notes

Learning to use a cell phone can be a challenging activity in the absence of cognitive deficits. Clients may require several sessions of practice and attempting a variety of strategies to determine which will be most successful.

Clients may benefit from demonstrations, but it is crucial to ensure they have opportunities for hands on practice to learn the process of completing their desired activities.

Remember that in addition to using different cognitive strategies and methods of training, the task can be graded by finding another way to performing it. For example, a client could learn to watch YouTube videos on an Android phone by giving a verbal prompt (“Hey Google! Show me ___ videos”) or by opening the YouTube app to find a pre-programmed playlist.

A similar format can also be used to train clients to use other technology devices, such as a smart TV, smart watch, fit bit, gaming platform, tablet, or computer. It can also be used to learn a new activity on a familiar device, such as learning how to use the StoryCorps app to share their personal history with family members.

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