Technology and Ageing: Challenges and Elderly Engagement

Kind to the savvy and cruel to the tech dinosaurs. This aptly sums up how technology is changing our world these days. Whether it is by force, out of necessity or sheer curiosity, technology is a part of the 21st century and is here to stay.

As a millennial, finding my way with technology takes constant learning and multiple attempts at trial and error. What might seem easy for us only gets harder for the older generations, especially those with disabilities.

There may be scores of tech-savvy elderly, but being late adopters of technology (smartphones, computers etc.), elderly do face numerous challenges.

1. Physical challenges: Tremors or heavy touches may register as a swipe or a 3D Touch instead of a light tap. Hence, when a command different from what is intended was executed or an error message appears, this heightens the confusion and anxiety experienced when trying to adapt to the new technology.

2. Elderly friendly technologies: Besides literacy issues, font sizes, size of physical buttons, touch screens’ sensitivity, speaker volumes, user-interface, battery lifespan, are features that need thoughtful tailoring to suit the needs of the elderly and their various health ailments.
My family tried introducing an elderly-friendly phone to my grandma when she was in her seventies. The main aim was to maintain regular contact with her especially when she is out for temple prayers and grocery shopping. With a simple dual function phone  for calls and text messaging, aided with large keypads and screen font size, it was initially hard to comprehend why my grandma was still hesitant to use it.

This leads to two other challenges. Notably,

3. Difficulty learning and retaining new information: With or without any disabilities, forgetfulness is a common reason why at times, we are unable to operate or do things even after being taught. After all, familiarity and proficiency are built upon overtime.

4. Skeptical about new technologies: Growing up without a mobile phone or any other smart technologies naturally creates a genuine lack of concern if an elderly ever needs to adopt one, let alone promptly.

Technology might bring us greater ease in our everyday lives but elderly lived through years without it. Are we forcing them into a life that we grew into or is technology really able to revolutionize the lives of everyone, even the aged?

In this video, it shows my grandma, 85, responding to me in real time despite it being a video recording. My mum and aunts always encourage her to call her children or grandchildren if she misses them. Either she will talk to us directly over the phone or they will voice record or video her asking her questions. In turn, we voice record or video ourselves in response to her.

Technology might be foreign to elderly like my grandma, but it sure help keep the geographical distance between us shorter.

Watch video on Grandma responding to my video recording here.

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