Fitbit: a good solution for my mother with hearing loss?
April 28, 2020 11:28 AM   Subscribe

My mother has partial hearing loss, which means that sometimes she doesn't hear her cellphone ring if it isn't right in front of her. Is a "fitness bracelet" a good solution for her, for the sole purpose of alerting her by vibrating on her wrist when she gets a call, SMS, or WhatsApp message? Do other people with hearing loss use a Fitbit (or the like) for this purpose? Or is there a better solution?

She is intrigued by this idea, but before spending the money I'd like to hear from people who have tried it in practice and have a real-world sense for how effective it is in their lives.

At this point she doesn't care about the other benefits of a fitness device (but maybe she will once she has it?)
posted by splitpeasoup to Technology (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If you have the scratch, a smart watch might be a better solution, because then she could look at it to find out what exactly she's being notified of instead of just one buzz that could mean multiple things. Disclaimer: I do not own a smart watch so I can't tell you how easy it would be to use.
posted by zeusianfog at 11:33 AM on April 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

I have my iphone set to flash when it rings. Don't know how easy that is with android but it's a good answer for this hearing impaired person.
posted by leslies at 11:37 AM on April 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have a Fitbit Charge 3 that does this, and it's easy to set up. They're cheaper now that there are newer models. I like the Charge 3 because it's smaller than most smart-watch-type things, more like an actual old-fashioned wristwatch. The battery also lasts about a week for me. Overall, I recommend it.
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:45 AM on April 28, 2020

I don't have hearing loss (yet - I expect it will happen eventually) but I do have a Garmin Vivoactive and I haven't turned my cell phone ringer on in over three years. The only indication I have that my phone is ringing is a light buzzing on my wrist. From the touch screen on my wrist, I can direct a call to voice mail or read a preview of a text or email. There's an answer-the-phone option, too, but I've never tested it out. Rather if it is a call I want to take, I have time to pick up my phone and answer it.

In order to make this works, I have my phone set up to do push notifications for certain contacts for both sms and email. If there is a phone call and I don't recognize the number, I can send it right to voicemail, quite unobtrusively. If the number is in my contacts, then I can read that on my wrist.

If I'm really distracted, I will sometimes miss the wrist buzz, but that's rare.

I have the Vivoactive for fitness reasons, but I'm very happy to use it for the above purpose. The advantage of a smarter watch than my reasonably old vivoactive is the ability to answer texts and calls.
posted by TORunner at 11:47 AM on April 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

I don't have a Fitbit and have never used a similar smart-bracelet-thing, but I've had a Pebble smartwatch since 2015 and it's the best thing ever! I love that I can just glance at my watch and know what that notification sound meant, or that I don't have to think if I have my phone on silent or not because my watch will vibrate if I get any calls or messages, or that I can quickly silence alarm/call ringing by pressing a button on my watch. I don't have experience with other smart watches, but I'm sure all these things are pretty standard for a smart watch.
posted by gakiko at 11:47 AM on April 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have a FitBit Alta HR, and love the notification function. I miss texts/calls when I'm not wearing it because I keep my phone on silent most of the time. It also rolls a preview of who is calling/texting, and the beginning of a text. You could likely find a secondhand fitbit to try this out for minimal $$. The Alta holds a charge for around a week, which is pretty good compared to, for ex., my husband's apple watch which has to get charged much more often.

That said, occasionally it will just stop sending the notifications which is super annoying, and I have to go back into my bluetooth settings and hit "connect" (it's still paired). That may be due to turning off my bluetooth though, unlikely to be a problem for her.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:49 AM on April 28, 2020

because then she could look at it to find out what exactly she's being notified of instead of just one buzz that could mean multiple things.

My Fitbit shows the person'a name or number in addition to the slight buzzing and vibrating. I really love this feature. I don't technically have hearing loss, but I don't always hear my phone - for instance, if it's in my purse.
posted by FencingGal at 11:50 AM on April 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

With a new phone upgrade, I got a smart watch as a "freebie". I've never had an interest in a fitbit or smartwatch. I love this watch! Where I work, I can't carry my phone or look at it but with smart watch, its been great to discreetly check it or send a quick text back. It is set to vibrate (with custom vibrate rhythms!) or sound&vibrate. If your mom is tech savvy or you are willing to set it up, its pretty easy to do. The only con is, Is her current phone able to pair with a fitbit or smartphone?
posted by tipsyBumblebee at 11:58 AM on April 28, 2020

I have a Xiaomi Mi Band 4. If you feel like dipping your toes into the water on the cheap, this has worked well for me. $30, does notification and vibrates, also has a step counter. Decent screen, but still small enough to not get in my way. And a charge lasts over a week. I've been rather happy with it so far.
posted by ericales at 12:00 PM on April 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

I do not have hearing loss but I do have a Garmin vivosmart HR that vibrates when I get a call. One thing I would caution about if you end up selecting a Garmin product that uses the Garmin Connect app is that she might end up with more notifications than she wants which can be frustrating or confusing. I only want to get phone calls to vibrate on my wrist, so I went into the settings and turned off all app notifications. However, the problem is, if I install a new app, it doesn't respect those existing settings, so I have to go into Connect again and turn all my app notifications on and then off. From what I have Googled previously this is a known issue with the Connect app and they don't really care to fix it; I even opened a support ticket to no response. If she never installs new apps she'd probably never notice, it's just something I wanted to mention because it irritates me quite a bit and confused me for a while before I figured out the pattern that it was only the new apps.
posted by possibilityleft at 12:00 PM on April 28, 2020

Two things I would consider when looking into a model: strength of vibration and whether it can show you the message or who's calling.

I had an Apple Watch (without cell connectivity) and currently have a hybrid smartwatch. While I much prefer the look of the hybrid smartwatch, it's not great for messages / who's calling because (a) the vibration is too weak and (b) when I'm expecting a call, I end up running to my phone every time I feel a vibration because I don't get enough information from the watch. It's not a big deal, but it's annoying. It also doesn't handle WhatsApp or, I imagine, other apps.

The Apple Watch was amazing when I worked in a fast-paced professional services environment where my phone had to be on silent but I also had to reply to messages and calls within fifteen minutes. The haptic touch feels like someone tapping your wrist and was far more reliable than a vibration for making sure I never missed a message. Being able to see the message on the screen meant I could see whether I had to respond without stopping what I was doing, which meant I could focus better. And if a call came in, I could pick it up from my watch without having to run to find my phone. I missed my Apple Watch a lot during an emergency situation recently, when I was on edge for a week because I was afraid of missing calls and messages from the hospital, doctors, or family.

A third factor you might consider is whether you want the monitoring a device like the Apple Watch can provide. We're considering getting one for my elderly dad because he's recently had some health issues and accidents but is still very active and ferociously independent. The newer models can automatically call emergency contacts and emergency services if your parent has a bad fall and is unresponsive. We've learned the hard way that this is very important to us.
posted by saltypup at 12:12 PM on April 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

An Apple Watch gives a good noticeable tap on your wrist when you get a call (or text or email). To me, it's better than a buzz or flash, as I'll notice it even if I'm dozing. It can gently encourage maintaining activity (e.g., it can remind you to stand up and move around once an hour).

As mentioned just above, Apple Watches have fall detection, which is a good idea for a senior living on their own.
posted by praemunire at 12:41 PM on April 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have a FitBit Flex 2, just a simple little band thing. It buzzes once and flashes a blue light when a I get a text, and buzzes longer and flashes the blue light when I get a call. It has other things it can do as well, with other colors and buzz patterns.
posted by hydropsyche at 12:41 PM on April 28, 2020

I have a dear friend who has hearing loss. He has a hearing aid that is bluetooth connected to his phone and he loves it. You might check in to that option for notification and better hearing in conversations as well.
posted by effluvia at 1:01 PM on April 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have a FitBit Ionic and this is basically the reason why I upgraded from a non-smart FitBit. My phone is typically on silent, in my purse, which is in my backpack on the floor, and so I never hear it. The FitBit screen shows me whether it is a phonecall or a text, including the name or number of the person calling or, if it's a text, the name and some of the text being sent. If the number is tagged by my spam app, it comes up as "potentially spam," which could be useful for your mother as well.
posted by blurker at 2:11 PM on April 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm hearing-impaired but I don't usually mind missing phone calls. The Xiaomi sounds interesting, though. One thing to consider is if your Mom would benefit from health apps. There is an ECG option with an iWatch and iPhone; the newest iPhone SE is $400, and well-reviewed. I have episodes of abnormal heart rhythm and there are free apps that use my android phone's flash and my finger to get my heart rate; I use this as a biofeedback system to manage my heart rate.

Newer hearing aids should have a tie-in to your phone. I highly recommend your Mom look into hearing aids; they make a big difference in quality of life. Costco sells good hearing aids reasonably. The technology keeps getting better; if she tried them before and didn't like them, it's worth trying again.
posted by Mom at 4:11 PM on April 28, 2020

Other people have great suggestions for smart watches/fitness trackers but I thought I would add another idea that has been useful for my own hearing loss (in case others stumble on this thread looking for ideas).

While I cook/bake/do chores, I play background music from my phone using a portable Bluetooth speaker. If I receive a call, the music pauses for the phone to vibrate/ring and I will usually notice this, even if kitchen noise would be too loud for me to hear the phone vibrating.

Of course, this will only work if you are able to use headphones or a speaker on a regular basis, but I've found that I rarely miss calls anymore unless I forget to put music on.
posted by cp311 at 5:53 PM on April 28, 2020

Is it worth trying the "also vibrate for calls" setting and wearing the phone at the waist, or tucked into a back pocket, first?
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:21 PM on April 28, 2020

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