Best device configuration for slight dementia?

My mother of 85, a long time Macintosh user, was recently scammed for a large amount of money, and it is clear that she has a least mild dementia. I will be erasing and reinstalling the OS on her two devices. In this thread I would appreciate tips on

  1. the best way to reconfigure her Macbook Air M1 and iPhone 6s Plus with her diminishing cognitive capabilities in mind.
  2. if there is any way to configure the devices to only receive/send calls and texts from/to certain specified numbers?

I have seen and read these two interesting threads:

I’ve written a few more details about the scam and what we’ve done here, with a question about how to secure potential ”evidence” before reinstalling the system.

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First, my heart goes out to you, Owen. I read your other thread as well, and was once again so thankful that we never had to deal with that.

The thought that occurred to me regarding your question was “I wonder what you could do with Parental Controls?” It is certainly ironic, but some of the restrictions available for parents to use with their children may also be of use to you in safeguarding your mom. One example below (it covers Messages restrictions, among other topics), but there are lots of other pages out there covering other aspects of Parental Controls. Hope you’re successful!


So sorry Owen to hear your mother went through that. I agree with Jeff, Parental Controls are the way to go.

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Thanks Jeff, that’s exactly the kind of tips I need!

I pride myself on keeping up with tech at my age (73). I just finished upgrading my mac to Apple Silicon after 8 years because the old one could go only to Catalina. The upgrade was a huge cognitive load. Some apps work a bit differently on Monterey, necessitating some troubleshooting. It has taken me about a month to get comfortable.

I conclude that if I didn’t do any coding or analysis, all my “normal” activity could be more easily done on my iPad. (I used it during troubleshooting when the new Mac was not doing what I expected.)

So that is my recommendation for less intense computer usage. Get an iPad and it can be easily used like a smartphone. Retire the Mac. :slightly_frowning_face:
Good luck!


One hack that you can try: find a silent ringtone for her phone, and make that the default ringtone (and turn vibration for calls off). Then set a custom, normal ringtone for all of her contacts that you want her to get calls from. The only issue is if she’s actually using the iPhone at the time a call comes in she may notice the banner showing the call, but it is one way to make the phone only ring when certain numbers call.

(I think that I created a silent ringtone. If I can find it, I’ll add it to the thread.)


Thanks so much kcjw, unfortunately, that may be what we need to.

That’s a great hack Doug!

Following up the silent ringtone idea, you could configure a “focus” (formerly do not disturb) so it’s always on, and permit only people in her contact list to get through. I’ve done that to avoid spam SMS texts. I think badges will still appear, but if she tries to call a spammer back via a missed call badge, that might be OK (not sure if spammers take call backs, haha)
Editing to add: one could ensure this focus is on across all devices.


This is a great idea. Make sure to check allow calls from and choose only contacts.

I’ve done that to avoid spam SMS texts. I think badges will still appear,

You can hide badges on each focus as well in settings / focus / (choose focus) / Home Screen.


My family and I were in a similar situation with my mother before she died recently, and I know how difficult and heartbreaking it can be. This is especially the case in dealing with someone who had been very sharp and independent her whole life, but could no longer recognize risks. More than once we had to reset passwords in her iPhone and iPad, and change credit card numbers. It took a while to convince her that she should only use her credit card when another family member was there. And it was a challenge for us to not look like we were taking over or making decisions without her. We did our best to make shopping a fun activity she did with another family member.

Making sure she was able to speak to and to email her many friends and family members of all ages was very important. We also did an almost complete revision of the apps she had on her iPhone and her Windows computer. While she could no longer play bridge online, she was able to have fun with solitaire for a while. There are many apps and Web games available for people with memory issues. Though she could no longer do the crossword puzzles she always loved, she was able to do soduku online for a while. And we worked together to set up songs that she loved in Music on her iPhone, which my nephew set up on her Windows box. We set her up to knit scarves and baby blankets, and we’d select patterns online.

You can also set up Fraud Alerts and freezes just in case:

And it might be a good idea to keep reinforcing she should not click on pop ups.


Pringle33, that sounds pretty simple and effective actually, nice tip!

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Yes MMTalker, it’s all very sad and challenging. Thanks for the nice suggestions, I will discuss things like that with her when I arrive (from Sweden) later this week.
Fraud alert are good!

Spammers do seek callbacks, most of our spam calls to our landline consist of hang ups, they expect you to dial back to what turns out to be a premium rate number.

Some good tips up above, would be implementing these with my mother if only my sister hadn’t swapped her to Android…


I sure feel for you, Owen, as my newly-widowed mother is even older than yours, also showing signs of dementia (for which she has a lengthy appointment of “formal cognitive tests” in another two weeks)…

FWIW, here are my two cents:

  1. Ever since I got iPads for my parents, they never went near their bona-fide computers again. And that was 8 years ago! My dad especially LOVED the iPad Pro, on which he even wrote his memoirs using an Apple Pencil. Also towards the end of his life when he was very hard of hearing, he would watch his favorite YouTube channels on it, far easier for him with hearing aids than on a (smart) TV, for example.

  2. Permanent Focus is also a good idea, with notification silenced except from designated/privileged contacts. Meaning no badge popping up from ‘undesirables’, neither for calls nor for texts.

  3. I used Garage Band to record individual ringtones for the most important contacts, so that any time I call or text, for example, not only would my photo (ha!) flash on the recipient’s screen, my name would also be announced.

  4. While in Focus, allowing repeated calls to come through would cover important calls even when the contact may not be among the privileged. (Assuming scammers don’t call back immediately when failing to get through the first time…)

HTH, and best wishes or rather “Bon courage” to you. And please do keep us posted.


Thanks eccparis, that was a great list. I’m going to pass that on to my brother for discussion. The iPad option seems pretty smart. Mom actually has an old outdated iPad which she loved, so the acceptance curve would be minimal.


So glad that your mom already loved the old iPad. In fact I kept saying that my parents would have been the perfect… geriatric spokespeople for Apple, especially for ‘iToys’ (not my copyright but my mom’s). Alas I never got round to contacting Tim Cook, and now it’s too late…

As for individual ringtones via Garage Band, I decided to be rather ‘creative’. In addition to the caller name being announced, I also threw in a nickname that’s very specific to the caller but only known within the family, for example.

I remember once when my younger brother was visiting, my phone announced his name and childhood nickname (which contains both ‘dog’ and ‘bum’ :joy:) as an iMessage from him just arrived. He nearly laughed his head off, and I’m in stitches all over again just at the recollection!

The reason for mentioning this, however, is that if you included specific “associated details” in the custom ringtones, the announcement may even reinforce your mom’s memory of the caller. After all, every little bit helps when it comes to dementia…


That’s a nice story, and a good point, eccparis, thanks!

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I’ll be interested to see what people say as I’m in the same position, although fortunately she hasn’t been scammed yet, every time a scammer talks to her (or someone doing something legitimate) she just says “Oh you’ll have to talk to my son about that.”

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I’ve gotten some very good answers so far Joe, see above.
At the risk of getting off topic: One suggestion for preventing a scam (or at least creating a big obstacle) of someone who will accept help but isn’t willing to give up total control over their computer and finances is by directing two factor authentication for all of their important accounts/websites/emails/AppleIDs to someone else’s smartphone.