How to help seniors be more digitally connected
Much has been said about how seniors who are not digital savvy have felt particularly displaced in the current Covid-19 crisis. Safe distancing measures and restrictions on gatherings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus have inadvertently heightened the risks of loneliness and social isolation for seniors, particularly those who do not have access to the internet or smartphones.
Much has been said about how seniors who are not digital savvy have felt particularly displaced in the current Covid-19 crisis.
Safe distancing measures and restrictions on gatherings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus have inadvertently heightened the risks of loneliness and social isolation for seniors, particularly those who do not have access to the internet or smartphones.
To be sure, there are various initiatives aimed at helping seniors adopt digital tools. The Government, for instance, has launched a Seniors Go Digital programme to boost digital literacy and access among seniors.
Among other things, digital ambassadors provide one-on-one help to seniors on how to use smartphones for communicating via WhatsApp, scanning QR codes and making electronic payments (e-payments).
Given that the impact of Covid-19 will be long-drawn, what more can be done in this digitalisation drive for seniors?
GETTING SENIORS’ BUY-IN
To secure seniors’ buy-in on digitalisation, three factors are key: Affordability, availability and accessibility.
Under the Seniors Go Digital’s Mobile Access for Seniors scheme, only lower-income seniors can get subsidised smartphones and phone plans. Out-of-pocket monthly payments could still be an area of concern for seniors.
Cost aside, the availability of senior-friendly smartphones with appropriate tactile, visual and auditory touches is important.
Equally crucial is access to the full spectrum of smartphone functions.
Seniors use their smartphones more than as a communication means, to do online shopping, watch videos and even play games to relieve their loneliness.
But these functions could use up more data than their mobile subscription plan allows for.
So how do we ensure that seniors are not deprived of data-heavy but useful functions on their phones?
If mobile connection is to be regarded as an essential service for seniors, a “Seniors Telco Fund” similar to the Public Transport Fund could be considered to support the various needs of the different cohorts like the Pioneer and Merdeka Generations.
The telecommunication providers, working with agencies like the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), could consider implementing a corporate social responsibility programme and offer generous rebates to seniors to own a smartphone and a plan that can support smartphone usage.
A further idea to explore would be to build in a minimum percentage contribution to the fund from the licensing fees the authorities collect from telecommunication providers, and this contribution could be tax deductible to encourage the providers to give more.
This fund would support seniors to age in place, with digital applications like e-payments becoming commonplace even at food centres, or for Safe Entry check-ins at malls, so that seniors could adopt and adapt to such digital initiatives as they are widely used.
From my personal experiences, sustainable digital caregiving support for seniors is key.
As a primary caregiver to my parents and parents-in-law who are in their 70s and 80s, my digital caregiving services range from urging them to use WhatsApp and QR code scanning applications, to addressing their smartphone issues like software updates.
The caregiver, whether a family member or close friend, plays an important role to ensure digital literacy and access to technology at all times so that the seniors remain confident and independent using a smartphone.
This will make it easier for them to join their family members and friends in virtual communities like WhatsApp chat groups to alleviate social isolation.
This digital resource person could even be a befriender or volunteer, to complement caregivers and IMDA’s 1,000 digital ambassadors.
Such a support system can help the seniors manage new digital challenges easily, such as updates to the TraceTogether app where the seniors may have to relearn the updated functionalities.
This arrangement could evolve into a digital caregiving support system with, and for, seniors, and possibly promote senior volunteerism in this area as well, with more tech-savvy seniors stepping forward to help fellow seniors.
This approach could lead to an organic and virtuous circle of volunteerism and new support networks in the community.
Caregivers should be part of the engagement strategy for seniors to go digital. This approach will engender a more holistic way of digital learning, where caregivers who know the seniors well, and could cater to their bio-psychosocial learning needs, guide them along them instead of a one-size-fits-all pedagogy.
So how do we encourage more caregivers to come on board?
Perhaps the use of the Caregiver Training Grant could be extended to nudge caregivers to support seniors in building their digital caregiving capabilities.
A trusted learning buddy like their caregiver is critical to ensure sustainable adoption and smart adaption of social-digital connection for seniors. In addition, caregivers could help to address potential cybersecurity concerns of seniors using other smartphone applications like e-wallet and online grocery shopping.
Caregivers have a crucial role to play in helping seniors be more digital savvy, which in turn can help them lead more meaningful lives in a post-pandemic world.
The caregiver piece is already a part of our everyday caregiving picture for seniors. Now, it behoves us to start piecing these pieces together to make social-digital connection work for seniors, and more importantly with their caregivers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tan Tai Kiat received the Alice Lim Memorial Fund Award to do his PhD in Gerontology at the Singapore University of Social Sciences. He is also director of operations at SingHealth Community Hospitals.
Related topicsdigital seniors elderly smartphone caregiver Technology
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