Technology for senior citizens: Being healthy, safe and socially connected

I asked a 105 year old woman showing my phone, “do you know how to use a smartphone?” Without whispering a word she grabbed the phone and clicked a selfie with me.

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Cool breeze, chirpy birds and fresh air – all these make up to pleasant moments during my early morning walk, in the nearby park. I see many people coming to the park for a walk and yoga, one of the observations I’ve had over a period of time is that more than youngsters, senior citizens come for yoga, regularly.I feel motivated when I see old aged people doing yoga every day. After few days of break from sickness when I returned to my morning walk routine, one fine morning, an old person wished me “Good morning”, with a genuine smile on his face. His name is Ramakrishna.

He asked me curiously – “Why do you come on alternate days? Why are you not regular? If you are initiating something you should continue that.”

Those words pleasantly surprised me, especially coming from someone whom I haven’t interacted with even once. I responded – “Thank you uncle! From today, I’ll try my best to come daily.”

I felt motivated to show up every morning at the park, Mr. Ramakrishna and I started doing yoga daily, we became friends, we started learning deeper about our personal lives.

One day, deeply in thought he said,

“Our life is not so easy, no body speaks to elderly people, not even at our homes. Me and my wife both feel alone at our house. We are sometimes losing our confidence.”

In reply to his thought, I shared: “Uncle, you’ve had a wonderful life journey! Probably you were never dependent on your children until now, so why now? Why don’t you engage yourself in some activities?”

He replied, “Of Course we do, we go to a place in JP nagar. Infact there are so many senior citizens who are suffering from emotional stress, some kind of diseases, lack of confidence etc. So we all gather at one place. We do several physical activities like yoga, elder gym, aqua gym; Individual activities like number games, pen paper based games, word games, picture activities etc; Group activities like memory game, attention test, languages, arts and crafts, new learning, storytelling etc. Once in a week.”

I was surprised! I did not imagine, he was driving a community, creating opportunities for elderly people to feel connected, engaged and involved.

I probed further to understand if today’s technology meant anything at all for him, for the community and senior citizens in general. I asked him how he thinks technology can help them.

He responded enthusiastically with some of the technologies people in their community use for entertainment. He shared, new technologies are helping them be healthy, safe and socially connected, reducing the burden on their family members.

Social connection: Internet based audio / video applications, email, whatsapp, skype and social media platforms are enabling senior citizens’ social interactions, when physically visiting friends and family members isn’t possible frequently.

Safety: Elderly people who live alone, feel safer having a personal device which enables them to call for help with the simple push of a button. Both the elderly and their family members can have peace of mind, knowing that the device facilitates a call for help in any emergency situation.

Safety is also a concern for those seniors who are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. GPS tracking devices are available today that can monitor the location of seniors and send alerts to guardians or children. New wearable technology, like the Google Glass, could be particularly of great use for those who are struggling with the beginning stages of the Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

As companies of the digital era focus on moving faster serving young, technology savvy audience, they may be missing out on opportunities to serve a growing population of senior citizens.

Some problems senior citizens face

  • Loss of spouse, leading to feeling of loneliness and isolation
  • Decline in physical health, leading to lack of confidence in doing tasks independently
  • Lack of attention and listening, by family members, widening generation gap, leading to feeling of deprivation of their dignity and importance
  • Narrowed social life, loss of friends & relatives leading to home becoming a confinement

What can we do with technology to be more inclusive and empathetic to elderly people, in our fast moving lives?

  • Participation: Enable them to participate in the economy, earn by offering consultations from their life experience and wisdom, which is extremely valuable for us to progress as a society. Perspectives, guidance and mentoring from the elderly we believe, need to be integrated deeply into what’s taught in schools and colleges. We could also have online platforms that encourage seniors to come forward and share their life lessons and insights.
  • Connection: Enable them to restore connections to their family members who are separated geographically or have travel constraints
  • Information: Enable them to use the internet, gain information on their body, health conditions, find people who have answers to their questions and start conversations online.

My experience after spending time with senior citizens

There is a saying that goes like this – “In the old age humans behave like a child”. I felt like being among children in a pre-nursery school, with aged people as students. As soon as I entered, I saw people doing physical exercises to keep themselves healthy. As memory loss is a major problem in the old age, people were playing block games, number games and quizzes to overcome this challenge. I remembered my school days, when the teacher used to dictate a word and we use to write it. I saw my childhood in them when they were calling me, asking me for spellings. They had marks given for the words they had written and to my surprise, everyone took my signature on the page, on completion of the test.

I was mesmerised to see one 105 year aged women solving a block puzzle and arranging alphabets and shapes. I questioned myself – is age really a barrier for learning, building relationships and making friends? People were humorous, enthusiastic, cool and vibrant with positive energy. They were interested in knowing my personal life as well. Time was up for snacks and all of them hurried towards the packet of biscuits like the children! They even had got the tiffin boxes, which reminded me of my mom preparing lunch box for me during my the school days. They shared lunch boxes among themselves. I wondered – are we losing the human touch and natural compassion when we’re young and regaining it back in our old age?

I also saw technologies like Google glass assisting old aged people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. They all were aware about technologies and social networking apps like whatsapp, skype and other apps that help people stay connected.

I asked an 105 year old woman showing my phone, “do you know how to use a smartphone?”

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Without whispering a word she grabbed the phone and clicked a selfie with me.

Here’s what I realized after meeting them – we are all born with lots of innocence, we often grow up losing it, we focus on increasing the bank balance, self satisfaction without listening to or caring for others. As we grow, we lose ability to use the money we’ve piled up, so we start focusing on relationships that we have built growing up, returning to our innocence and accepting our vulnerability.

“Lets together make this world a beautiful place to live, for people of all ages, all stages of life; for this is when I believe, we all win.”

– Shweta Pathak