If technology becomes inclusive of the elderly population, it stands to improve their quality of life tremendously. So, even if it feels overwhelming to them at first, it is totally worth the effort of learning how to use it, writes HARISH KHATRI
The barriers & solutions for Senior Citizens
Life expectancy has constantly been on the rise for the last 150 years in developed countries, mainly due to better living conditions, higher hygienic standards and improved medical care. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), global average life expectancy increased by 5.5 years between 2000 and 2016, the fastest increase since the 1960s. Life expectancy in India has increased from 49.7 years in 1970-75 to 68.7 years in 2012-16, as per the National Health Profile 2019.
The high life expectancy we face today has led to a significant increase in the number of senior citizens in our society. And they have become a strong and independent segment and a community by themselves. Parallely, the world has seen a huge growth in technology, which now supports and streamlines many day-to-day activities. It would have been almost impossible to navigate our way through world lockdowns and isolation periods if it was not for the internet, technology-based platforms and apps that home delivered conveniences to us.
Even in the pre-Covid world, we saw people changing their lifestyles and even asset buying habits because of the massive changes brought in by technology. Many preferred not to buy cars because of apps offering rides on call. From our health to our home and work place everything became entwined in technology. For our Senior Citizens technology has come as a boon, helping them stay at home and be able to handle many tasks. But has embracing technology been smooth for this segment? We all know many older persons who can barely text let alone manoeuvre mobile apps! In fact, many older adults say they still don’t feel confident about using gadgets and tech-based platforms.
As was recently published, according to the lead author of a study, Shengzhi Wang of the Design Lab at the University of California San Diego (UCSD), researchers found that many times “frustration” with new technology made older adults unsure of their ability to use it, leaving them unmotivated to even try. So, what are these barriers that are causing the frustration?
- Barrier of Constant Updates and Change: One of the biggest barriers that frustrated the elders was removal of buttons from mobile phones. They had adapted well to the “Button Mobiles”, but with the technology advancements and introduction of new “Touch Mobiles”, they started feeling uncomfortable. The Smartphone became an all new beast to conquer and many of them still struggle.
- Barrier of Remembering too many passwords: Although this problem is quite prevalent for all age groups, but the burden of having a password for every different app and account affects the Seniors the most. Nowadays, it is impossible to get into any online or app-based service without the “log in” procedures. Although Google allows accessing many of the online portals through a single login account, but there are still many platforms out there that will require a separate account setup. In many instances the tech of most mobile apps is tedious and complicated, whereas it should have been inclusive and guiding. Moreover, Seniors usually prefer to have one password for all their online accounts so that they won’t forget it. However, this is no longer a recommended practice as it attracts cybercriminals and hackers. This itself should encourage mobile apps to have simpler ways for login.
- Barrier of Fear of making a mistake: The fear of navigating a mobile app indicates that you are getting old! The main reason of being afraid is making mistakes. Even in the past, the earlier generation used to think twice before handling the VCR remote due to the same fear. Although touch and voice commands can do wonders for seniors, we must build confidence in them enough to experiment with these tech monsters! Like when we buy a smart television, someone from the Company comes and give us a demo, Tech companies should go to that level and provide doorstep demo services for their mobile apps. Once the fear of losing money isn’t there, rest all other worries can be taken care of by giving them confidence to hit and try. It’s okay to make a mistake as long as there is no price to pay for their mistakes.
- Barrier of too many Options: We live in an era where we have numerous choices of products. Even though it is beneficial for us, it has made the buying process even more confusing, especially for Seniors. They can’t select which product is best for them in a plethora of product options. There has to be an honest and simple grading system which helps the elderly understand what’s available, and how does it rank in quality and service.
- Barrier of Barrier of Visual Impairments: Visual functions decrease as people age. The change in visual functionality or the ability to see details decelerate at the age of 55 and above. The age-related changes in colour vision and contrast sensitivity creates more trouble for older adults particularly while reading smaller fonts and different icons in smartphones and other gadgets.
Helping Seniors become comfortable with technology
The IT industry needs to redefine and inculcate new practices to make tech more inclusive. To begin with, for the aging population, a great deal of attention has to be focused on design to support the performance of important everyday activities such as transportation, healthcare, and work.
We need to take inspiration from “Button Mobiles” and create “Touch Button Technology” which is simple and easy to use. For instance, the recently launched app, India Assist that has been created for the Senior Citizens uses technology to deliver 24X7 assistance to the elderly via a phone app. Prototype of using an Elder-friendly design can be seen in this app. Big buttons, clearly mentioning what they are supposed to do, with the right visuals, remove a lot of barriers that we discussed above.
We also need to focus on the value tech can create in their lives, like assisting them to live an independent and dignified life. We should ensure use of easy and non-confusing language. The new words the Internet has created in our dictionary might not make sense to someone who barely uses a computer.
Apart from that we should help the elders understand and take advantage of social use of technology, like connecting with their family and friends through video calls, building their own community and forums on Social Media platforms, use Whatsapp Groups to stay connected and exchange information... Technology should give them the confidence that they are not alone. If and when they would need support, the support will be provided to them at the touch of a button. Not only this, tech should help them in managing their medication records. Many senior citizens find it challenging to keep a track of their medication. This should lead to keeping a track of their health related issues.
Benefits of Technology for the Seniors
If technology becomes inclusive of the elderly population it stands to improve their quality of life tremendously. So, even if it feels overwhelming at first to introduce it into your life at a later stage, it is totally worth the effort of learning how to use it.
- Financial Management: Banking and investments are extremely important in everyone’s life. The hassle of making a trip to the bank, standing in queues and getting your work done in crowded spaces is frustrating for the best of people. For the Seniors, it can actually end up becoming a heavy burden. Using technology and netbanking simplifies this completely and empowers them to manage their finances from the comfort of their homes. Most banks offer phone apps now. And this makes it possible for the elderly to know their statements, transfer funds, receive money all very conveniently.
- Social Interaction: Video calls are a nicer way to connect with your loved ones. As are emails, whatsapp groups and of course social media platforms like Facebook. With growing nuclear families, many people are living alone and as they retire from work-life and their social life decreases due to health issues, or cost-of-living issues, they find themselves lonely and isolated. The availability to communicate with others is something easily accessible via tablets and smartphones. It helps seniors combat feelings of depression and isolation, which are common to living alone.
- Entertainment: This is a big benefit. Once the Seniors learn to navigate and subscribe to apps they have 24x7 streaming of their favourite shows and films and music. With cinema halls becoming difficult to access as people age, they have no reason to be deprived of their favourite films. In fact, a whole new world of knowledge and information opens up too with documentaries and non-fiction shows. Reading becomes tough as you get older and the visual media and audio books downloaded can easily replace that.
l Assistance & Support: This is a huge and very relevant advantage of technology. When parents and our elders live alone, children are always worried about their support structure. Now, medicines purchase and doctor consultation can be done online. One doesn’t need to go out for daily needs. Groceries and other conveniences can be delivered at home. Cleaning services, electricians, plumbers, para-medical helpers are all available at the click of a button. As are cabs and travel assistance. What’s very important to note is that these services are verified and the personnel are credible and safe. Once the Elderly are taught to overcome their resistance to technology and use it, they will love the ease of living and social fulfillment it brings to their lives.
The responsibility of supporting the agings is collective. The mobile companies need to ensure that they provide large screen mobiles at affordable prices. The internet companies need to ensure that they run specific campaigns to target Senior Citizens and try to bring them into mainstream by providing them wifi access at reasonable cost. The mobile apps development companies need to ensure that they create easy-to-use tech and provide a demo of their product at the doorstep of the customers. Governments need to incentivise companies making their tech inclusive for senior citizens. Once all the stakeholders start playing their roles well, we will see seniors becoming comfortable and in fact depending on technology to make their quality of life better.
With increasing number of families going nuclear units in India, and children living away from parents due to professional pursuits, it is not only a need but a necessity to equip our Elders with friendly technology that will be their safety net. And, this is not just about doing social good! Given that the elderly segment makes for a large part of the world’s population, intelligently conceived and specialised technology driven products for the Older Adult segment would not be a bad thing for new businesses and the Indian economy either!
The writer is the founder of India Assist, a startup that has created a mobile app for the support of senior citizens