Tech to the rescue of lonely elders

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By Shubhangi Shah

When home-bound due to Covid-induced lockdown, what kept you sane? Chances are that your phone and laptop would feature among the answers. Technology filled the gap, to some extent, created by social isolation. Zoom and video calls replaced real-life interactions, OTT platforms took the place of movie outings and taking part in viral trends gave us a feeling that we were all in this together. Technology is equally celebrated and scorned upon. Putting these debates aside for a moment, the above-mentioned scenarios clearly show the positive aspects of technology. Here it was a tool to kill loneliness and isolation, virtually, of course. With Covid cases dipping, the lives of a majority of the population are coming back to normal. However, there is a section that faces isolation and loneliness on a daily basis with or without the presence of the virus. That section comprises the elderly. Retired, having fulfilled much of the responsibilities, with kids off to work and grandkids to school, they are often by themselves for a major portion of the day. Declining physical and cognitive functions further adds up to the challenge. Evidently, it can take a significant toll on mental well-being.

So, what’s the solution? The answer might rest with technology and its several creators. Just like through video calls, you could stay connected with family and friends, so can they. It can be a huge boon for them as this section of people greatly enjoys human interactions. Not just that, during the pandemic, when the public broadcaster ran a slew of old TV shows, the senior citizens were seen taking a deep dive into nostalgia, thanks to technology. They can take it a step forward by catching up on 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 seeking 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 such tech innovations are the need of the hour that cater to the seniors. To boost that, the Centre has launched Seniorcare Ageing Growth Engine (SAGE), a project to support age-tech startups. And several companies are working in this domain. One such startup is Seniority, an e-commerce platform specifically designed to meet the needs of the elderly. Not just products, it also houses a virtual club for them to connect, live pooja booking services and even the service of home delivery of prasad. Another such company is Khyaal, which caters to the emotional needs of the elderly through companionship calls. Then there is ’empowerji’, catering to digital literacy for seniors.

Significant technological developments for the elderly is the need of the hour. As per a 2018 report by HelpAge India, the old-age population is expected to rise to 20% by 2050. Similarly, life expectancy is set to increase from 67.5 in 2015 to 75.9 over the next three decades, thanks to medical advancements. At the same time, more and more Indians are moving towards the nuclear family setup from the joint family system, where the elderly’s needs were often automatically taken care of. It can push them further towards seclusion. Also, they need more care than other adults. Technology has the potential to fill in some of these gaps.

Many form an impression that seniors are averse to technology. This isn’t true. They are not afraid of newer experiences and embrace changes. What is needed is a technology that is familiar and easy to use. Voice command is a great advancement in this respect. Bigger screens with magnified content, louder sound, simpler fonts, familiar commands, and add-ons are some of the changes tech-makers can think of to assist their elderly customers.