Wednesday, May 25 2022

By Shubhangi Shah

When you’re housebound due to the Covid-induced lockdown, what kept you sane? Chances are your phone and laptop are among the answers. Technology was filling, to some extent, the void created by social isolation. Zoom and video calls have replaced face-to-face interactions, OTT platforms have replaced cinema outings, and participating in viral trends has made us feel like we’re all in this together. Technology is equally celebrated and despised. Putting these debates aside for a moment, the scenarios mentioned above clearly show the positive aspects of the technology. Here it was a tool to kill loneliness and isolation, virtually of course. With the decline in Covid cases, life for a majority of the population is returning to normal. However, there is a section that faces isolation and loneliness on a daily basis with or without the presence of the virus. This section includes the elderly. Retired, having assumed a large part of the responsibilities, with children at work and grandchildren at school, they are often alone for a large part of the day. Declining physical and cognitive functions further add to the challenge. Obviously, this can significantly impair mental well-being.

So what is the solution ? The answer may lie in technology and its many creators. Just like through video calls, you can keep in touch with family and friends, too. This can be a huge boon for them as this part of the population enjoys human interaction very much. Not only that, during the pandemic, when the public broadcaster aired a slew of old TV shows, the elderly were seen diving deep into nostalgia, thanks to technology. They can take a step forward by catching up on the movies and shows of their choice on video and content streaming platforms.

Social media can serve as a tool to connect with long-lost friends and colleagues. Platforms like Kindle and Google Play Books offer a wide range of books to read. If you are looking for vernacular literature, there are platforms like Pratilipi and Storytel. News aggregator websites like Dailyhunt and Way2News solve the problem of lack of news, regional and otherwise, in vernacular languages.

There is no doubt that these technological innovations are the need of the hour that cater to the elderly. To boost this, the Center launched Seniorcare Aging Growth Engine (SAGE), a project to support age-tech startups. And several companies are working in this field. One of these startups is Seniority, an e-commerce platform specifically designed to meet the needs of seniors. Not just products, it also houses a virtual club for them to connect, live pooja booking services and even prasad’s home delivery service. Another such company is Khyaal, which caters to the emotional needs of older people through companionship calls. Then there’s “empowerji,” which caters to digital literacy for seniors.

Important technological developments for the elderly is the need of the hour. According to a 2018 report by HelpAge India, the elderly population is expected to reach 20% by 2050. Similarly, life expectancy is expected to increase from 67.5 in 2015 to 75.9 over the next three decades, thanks to medical advances. At the same time, more and more Indians are moving towards the nuclear family setup from the joint family system, where the needs of the elderly were often automatically catered for. This can push them further into isolation. In addition, they need more care than other adults. Technology has the potential to fill some of these gaps.

Many feel that seniors are averse to technology. It’s not true. They are not afraid of new experiences and accept changes. What is needed is familiar, easy-to-use technology. Voice control is a big step up in this regard. Bigger screens with bigger content, louder sound, simpler fonts, familiar controls and add-ons are some of the changes tech makers can think of to help their elderly customers.

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