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Digital empowerment for India's senior citizens

Our lifestyle has changed quite a lot in the past decade and digital transformation is in full swing. The youth segment has become the implied target market for the dazzling array of digital devices, apps and tools. However, the huge consumer base comprising elderly users has remained untapped. As per HelpAge India’s annual report, by 2050, the number of India’s senior citizens will be to equal its under-18 population. So the former has immense potential to constitute an entirely new customer base. The segment comprises over 110 million senior citizens with a literacy rate of 44%, and the penetration of mobile phones and internet access in this segment has been growing.

With no smartphones and social media, senior citizens used to rely heavily on human interaction and personal attention. But the explosion of technology in the last 10 years has changed their world. Most businesses today have an infusion of technology in their services thus adding a lot of convenience to the user experience. For the younger generations that have grown up in these times, it is almost natural to accept these changes. Technology, no doubt, makes life easy. But these changes are daunting for seniors who are not acquainted with technology and evince a natural resistance to accept change. If we do not address this gap between seniors and technology today, life for them tomorrow with newer and bigger inventions will get even more daunting.

Technology can enrich senior citizens’ lives in more ways than one. Most importantly, a digitally-savvy senior is in tune with the times. He or she can independently go about their online business and will seldom depend on people for help. It has been observed that seniors who have allowed technology into their daily itinerary live happier and more fulfilled lives than their counterparts who refuse to adapt to the new changes.

Digital empowerment for seniors is truly the need of the hour. Without which our the 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 Facebook and WhatsApp help senior citizens to stay connected with their loved ones. As the HelpAge India report shows, more than 90% 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 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.

Learning something about a smart wearable that enables self-health monitoring can keep seniors and their loved ones stay healthy. These devices can monitor heart rate, steps taken, blood sugar, blood pressure, etc. Since many seniors live by themselves, smart security and smart devices for their homes can also be very useful. There are AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality) applications that can help seniors experience breath-taking views from across the globe sans the travel.

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. Just as people teaching them need to be patient. 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 recognise 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.

Adapted from ‘Digital empowerment for India’s senior citizens’ which was published in ‘The Sunday Guardian’ on March 23, 2019


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