Age-Tech: Helping Senior Citizens manage the Corona stress
Senior citizens are at significantly more risk of contracting Covid-19 and developing complications
Mrs. Sen has been one of the many seniors who have been asked to not leave home during the lockdown period by both her son and her daughter. However, she is one of those rare 82 year olds who have embraced technology to keep in touch with her children and her grandchildren without stepping out of her north Kolkata flat.
Senior citizens are at significantly more risk of contracting Covid-19 and developing complications. The best way to protect them is to limit their contact with others. Even when the current lockdown is relaxed, it is likely that the elderly will be advised to reduce outside movement for a much longer period than the general population.
This will bring fundamental changes in the way senior citizens get their information, connect with their families, buy their groceries, seek medical help or even watch movies. For the elderly, the first waves of digital change are finally crashing on their doorsteps.
Accessing Health Care remotely
Senior citizens use healthcare systems much more frequently than others. Whether it is a quick visit to the local clinic, or a more protracted hospital stay, whenever the elderly step into a healthcare environment they expose themselves to infections.
Increasingly tech-enabled solutions - including tele-medicine, connected devices and AI powered Home Care platforms - are being developed to facilitate care for the elderly. This will revolutionise the way we manage chronic diseases, change medications or even attend to emergencies, thereby reducing the need for the elderly to physically visit doctors or hospitals.
Mrs Roy has herself now used a smart phone to take a picture of a rash on her left arm before WhatsApp-ing it to the doctor and then doing a phone-based consultation. For further information, she went on WebMD and used an online pharmacy to purchase the ointment recommended by her consultant.
Unthinkable for her, even a few days ago!
Reducing Isolation & Depression
Isolation among the elderly is very common – even without the Coronavirus lockdown. Senior citizens often live alone, find travelling hard and do not entirely engage with social media. What the recent crisis has done is make matters worse.
Increasingly the elderly feel stressed, depressed or worried about the future and their way of life. Being stuck at home - without even the maid’s daily visit or a leisurely stroll to the local market – has caused much elderly angst without any near-term help or solution.
Technology can be an enabler in helping arrest depression and managing it over time. From simple phone based Psychological Support helplines to AI-powered cameras that connect at-risk seniors remotely to psychiatrists, a whole host of innovations are being used globally. In Japan and China, conversational robots are being programmed to provide tailored conversations and engage with seniors who are at risk of social isolation.
Mrs Roy herself video-called on Skype and consulted trained psychologists when she felt increasingly stressed about buying groceries during the first few days of the lockdown. With many more weeks of self-isolation expected for some, technology platforms could provide critical mental health support to vulnerable seniors.
Encouraging digital communication
Although restrictions during the Coronavirus period will imply less face-to-face interaction with people, it is crucial that seniors do not socially disconnect.
Mrs Roy has found creative ways of using technology to connect with her son in London and her niece in Bangalore. She has joined a few family WhatsApp groups, learned how to video call on Skype, post an image of her simple lunch on Facebook and even become a member of an online reading club that conducts 30-minute sessions on Zoom.
While it was initially daunting, she discovered an engaging online world once a younger neighbour showed her how to download the apps, post her updates and log on to video platforms. So, while she still misses her weekly club and monthly restaurant visits, she does not feel that isolated compared to many others of her age group.
Discovering interests and information
From reading newspapers on an app to joining an online senior-friendly exercise group to browsing e-commerce platforms to watching Bollywood movies on Netflix, Mrs Roy has discovered an engaging virtual world completely unknown to her just weeks before.
The elderly is not disinterested in technology nor are they afraid of using it. The main issue is one of education, access and need. Coronavirus has wrecked public health, destroyed the global economy, adversely affected millions of elderly – and yet, if there is a silver lining, it has started to introduce many more Mrs Roys to the virtual world.
Online engagement comes with many opportunities and challenges, but there is no denying that without age-friendly tech solutions, managing any future super-virus will be incredibly hard – especially for the elderly.
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