By Saumyajit Roy
The past decade has seen a quantum leap in consumer technology and its presence in our lives. We wake up to the alert of an incoming email; ask Alexa to read aloud the latest news; instruct Google Maps to drive us to the office through the least amount of traffic; pay for dinner through a payment wallet and drift off to sleep while discovering our friends’ latest escapades on social media. From using a smartphone to living in a smart home, we are quite literally surrounded by technology every minute of every day. While the millenials and GenZ are definitely more attuned and accustomed to words like ‘cutting edge’ and ‘innovation’, they only form a segment of a much larger consumer base that is waiting to be discovered and addressed.
There has been a lot written about unlocking the potential of ‘Young India’, but the other end of the age spectrum that is expanding equally rapidly, is often forgotten. According to HelpAge India’s annual report, by 2050, the number of India’s senior citizens will equal its under-18 population. With the advancement of medical science, life expectancy is expected to increase further, from 67.5 in 2015 to 75.9 over the next three decades, thus indicating an urgent need to create a digital infrastructure that supports and harnesses the power of this large yet often-forgotten ‘silver’ segment.
They may not have been born unlocking smartphones or punching on keypads, but India’s elderly have witnessed some of the most difficult challenges and overcome those with their sheer resilience and perseverance. This generation of senior citizens is not afraid of change and has adapted itself to new and emerging perspectives, societal changes, opinions and thoughts that are often contrary to what they grew up with.
When South Mumbai’s 65 years old, Neena Tayal, bid a teary farewell to her 25 year old daughter Sneha, as she left to pursue a postgraduate degree at the prestigious London School of Economics, Neena reached out to her young neighbours to help her download a video call service for international calls. She looks forward to her daily evening walks while chatting with her daughter.
Sixty-seven-year-old Sanjeev Mehta, a retired MD of an International logistics firm, enjoys going on road trips around the lesser-known hilly regions in the north, with his 66-year-old wife Neeti. They are empty nesters and believe that life has only just begun as they now have the financial independence and the luxury of time to finally explore the world! It took some learning but he cherishes the independence of being able to book his own tickets through online travel apps and managing his road trips with the assistance of navigation apps.
While the stereotypical image of an elderly is normally defined by terms such as ‘dependent’ and ‘needy’, the one attribute that this generation of seniors cherish and desire the most is ‘independence’. They’ve worked hard to create a good life for themselves and their children and want to continue to feel like providers and contributors and most importantly, in-charge of their own lives. Technology has created a significant opportunity for seniors to lead a truly independent and yet connected life.
The past few months have been particularly difficult for the elderly. Being the most vulnerable victims of the pandemic, they have been forced to confine their lives within the walls of their house. A lot of them have children either studying or working abroad and hence are forced to navigate their daily challenges and loneliness without the luxury of stepping out of their homes. Technology has played a big role in allowing these senior citizens to not simply fulfill their daily needs but also stay connected with their loved ones and community at large. Video calling apps such as Zoom and Google Meet have allowed grandparents to virtually-bless their grandchildren on special occasions and allowed families to celebrate festivals together on the same screen. Loneliness remains a significant challenge, but video calling and social media apps allow the elderly to continue to play an active role in their family and community. During these trying times, many communities have created special WhatsApp groups and host frequent online events that range from spiritual conferences to simple cooking demos to keep the seniors in the community engaged and entertained within their homes itself.
Health and safety remain key concerns for the seniors and their family, especially when the children are not living in the same city or country. Cutting edge health apps now allow seniors and their children to receive real-time updates on their vital health parameters, arrange for emergency services, ensure routine check-ups and initiate regular check-in calls to monitor daily medicine and overall wellness within the comfort of their own homes.
The pandemic has also witnessed seniors using more e-commerce websites and apps as a safer option to procure their daily needs. The cash-on-delivery option helped build more confidence and trust, even among the more wary elderly consumers. A lot of them are also using various online payment options and wallets to avoid unnecessary exposure to cash during these trying times.
While the learning curve has been steep, over the past few months, many elders have become extremely tech savvy and are enjoying a renewed confidence as they take charge of their lives without depending on others to fulfill their basic needs and desires. Ageing is inevitable but our outlook towards ageing is a choice we make for ourselves. It is heartening to hear the stories of elders who have harnessed the power of technology to create micro communities, launch their humble but inspirational ventures and enrich the lives of all those around them with their wisdom and passion for life. Technology has the power to create and connect, and India’s elderly have only just begun to harness it!
(The writer is the co-founder and CEO of Emoha Elder Care)
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