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Empowering Elderly~II

A sizeable percentage of our elderly population is in good health, and therefore the challenge is of how to help them gainfully engage with society. Digital empowerment can pave the way to get them connected on the internet and provide them with opportunities to share their competencies.

Anupriyo Mallick | Kolkata |

Older population faces some specific challenges in using technology. Jeff Johnson and Kate Finn in their book Designing User Interfaces for an Aging Population have listed some of these challenges. These include elders taking longer to learn new applications or devices, performing poorly on tasks relying on memory, having frequent challenges with the accidental movement of the pointer, making more input errors and having more trouble hitting on-screen targets.

With the growing number of senior citizens as well as the increased lifespan of human beings and the fact most people are always online, designing digital devices and user interfaces suitable for senior citizens is extremely important. User experiences of senior citizens is very different from that of other generations and therefore appreciating their physical and mental state would be essential for designing the user interfaces and the applications.

Visual consistency and keeping things simple would be necessary to create comfort and trust with this user group. Large readable fonts should be used to make reading easy. With hearing and sight related difficulties increasing with age, smart phones are not the ideal platform for accessing information as the screens are not made for reading or for navigation. Hence touch screen PCs or tablets should be ideally considered for developing applications aimed at frequent usage by senior citizens.

It is also important to bear in mind that it would be necessary to explain icons and how to move between screens. A sizeable percentage of our elderly population is in good health, and therefore the challenge faced is how to help them to gainfully engage with society. Digital empowerment can pave the way to get them connected on the internet and provide them with opportunities to share their knowhow or competencies with the younger generation through online communities.

This could lead to an excellent collaboration between the younger and the senior groups with the former benefitting from the wisdom and experience of the latter while the latter could be helped by the younger lot to learn to use technology and navigate through the array of applications. AI bots are predicted to become companions of lonely elderly persons; these can act on their command as well as support them in their daily chores. While currently there is a lack of digital literacy and there exists high levels of illiteracy amongst the elderly, in the next 20 years we are going to witness a sea change in their profiles.

This group would be techsavvy and more demanding than today’s elders. Hence it is time we start paying more attention to the elderly segment and their needs. It is not just because this segment would have more paying power but also because this will help senior citizens to integrate and engage with society at large.

The share of senior citizens which was around 8 per cent in 2011 will be 20 per cent by 2050. Therefore, we need a robust planning process and a sound support system for senior citizens. While the government has a significant role to play in this context to build the structures for health, finance, elderly care and social support, there are numerous avenues for digital technology intervention that should be pursued.

The need for technology intervention is not only on account of the convenience or opportunities for superior support; in several areas, technology support would be the only option to cater to their needs. The costs required to be incurred in order to build the support systems would be enormous and developing nations like India would find it challenging to find such resources. This is another reason for identifying areas where smart technology interventions would mitigate the costs.

For instance, sensors and artificial intelligent agents could be considered for providing higher security measures as well as advanced warnings for critical care and timely actions to avert mishap or provide medical support. Quality of life for senior citizens could substantially be improved with the help of sensors for movements and even for minimizing their loneliness with applications such as Alexa.

The tech savviness and ability to pay by senior citizens is also on the rise. Senior citizens are now an attractive target segment with their own specialised needs for products and services. Travel companies, banks and real estate companies have started making specialised offerings catering to this segment. Digital empowerment for seniors is truly the need of the hour. Without this our older generation faces the risks of digital isolation and may well be deprived of a happier life.

Imagine a senior whose adult children live in a different city or country. Social media apps like Face book and WhatsApp help senior citizens to stay connected with their loved ones. As the Help Age India report shows, more than 90 per cent of elderly internet users utilise social media platforms primarily to connect with family and friends

For many seniors, moving around the city due to mobility or health problems can be a challenge and that is why mobile apps and websites are a boon to them. Online payment service is another important convenience that seniors can avail – from paying their mobile, internet and utilities bills, to their shopping needs that can be fulfilled online.

Even banking transactions can be done from the comfort of your home these days. Other useful online services include booking a cab, ordering food, hiring housekeeping help, entertainment on demand, etc. Be it for shopping needs, travel needs or even ordering food to satisfy a craving – there is an app for everything.

In fact, there is an app to teach you how to use other apps. In short, technology can improve the quality of life of senior citizens. But there is a learning curve. Just like when we are presented with something new, we need time to understand it, similarly, seniors require time and patience to learn new things. Seniors typically ask for help on the same query more than once. This is natural – to register something new, repetitive learning is required.

Another important outcome of teaching technology to seniors is that it makes them digitally independent. Often, their family or relatives do the task at hand for seniors. This surely helps the seniors but it does not teach them how to do things themselves. It is important that seniors be taught hands-on. Digital know-how leads to digital independence. There is a need in India for technology training specifically designed for the senior community.

They require interactive sessions where they can try out the applications under the guidance of a patient teacher. Only practice will make them comfortable with the digital world. The focus of the government’s Digital India project has been on the country’s youth. But it also needs to recognize this growing elderly community and introduce training programmes on technology to better equip this group for contemporary life. To see true digital progress in the nation, we need to ensure that senior citizens too are made digitally savvy.

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(The writer is with Eastern Institute for Integrated Learning in Management (EIILM), Kolkata)