By Pramod Bhasin
Today, technology is ubiquitous, immensely benefitting both the young and the elderly. For seniors who live alone, away from their children, and know how to use tech tools, technology eases lives. From ordering groceries and medicines online to accessing telemedicine or undertaking diverse banking needs, technology offers them a plethora of convenient benefits. Very importantly, it has played an incredible role in connecting them with far flung families, accessing emergency and healthcare services, and getting access to their entitlements and benefits.
Technology can be a saviour for senior citizens, both in rural and urban India, improving their lives in varied and critical ways. First, it can keep them connected with family and friends. Even if their children (or friends) live across the country or overseas, tech helps the elderly stay regularly in touch with near and dear ones. Social media platforms and the innumerable WhatsApp groups keep us all bound together and in touch in ways that snail mail and expensive telephone calls could never achieve. Loneliness is a substantial issue for many elders and connectivity has helped erase it to a certain extent.
Second, technology can be used to improve health, address isolation, and enhance quality of life. The emergence of telemedicine and digital devices has changed the dynamics of the access to healthcare in a significant way and is a big boon for seniors suffering from chronic conditions such as diabetes, depression, hypertension, stroke, and cardiac ailments. Thanks to apps and other tech tools, the elderly can consult doctors remotely. This is particularly beneficial for people living in remote regions or those facing mobility issues. Social isolation a growing concern which Covid further heightened. Technology came to aid for many such elders who got online and accessed streaming services, online news, and information as a daily means of entertainment and recreation.
Third, technology can be utilised to access critical services and entitlements for disadvantaged elders. Technology is now being used in a big way for enabling elders, particularly the rural elderly, who are using it to link and enroll with government programmes such as the Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile Yojana, so they can benefit from schemes such as old age pension and PM-JAY and access their entitlements. Even though some rural elders may lack smart phone access, the approach of using CSC or digital centres for elders is helping bridge the gap of access to these critical services. It also provides a window to the outside world for rural elderly and in turn impacts their livelihood, as they can now learn new agricultural and farming techniques, understand the impact of weather on crops and much more through media like YouTube.
Keeping the above advantages in mind, individuals and institutions should handhold seniors so they can use technology seamlessly. Several organisations are actively working to promote the use of the internet in rural regions by providing access to digital resources and infrastructure.
The pandemic has deepened the digital divide among the elderly. Seniors remained confined within their homes and were unable to access basic services since they were habitual to physically visiting banks, marketplaces, and utility centres. Their lack of digital knowledge meant they were wholly dependent on their adult offspring or grandchildren to access utility services online. For those living alone, however, the challenge was far more formidable.
Statistics reveal why digital literacy programmes remain the need of the hour to help the elderly become tech-savvy, particularly in rural zones. As per a Nielsen report (India Internet Report 2023), there are more than 425 million internet users in rural areas—an astounding 44% more than in urban India, where 295 million people use the internet regularly. Although almost half of the rural segment is using the internet, ample headroom exists for greater growth in future, especially when it comes to elderly cohorts.
In this context, government initiatives that are driving digital literacy in rural India must be lauded, as they help the elderly significantly. One such initiative is the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (PMGDisha). This scheme is aimed at driving digital literacy among non-literate and digitally-illiterate citizens, including seniors in rural areas. With more than 6.15 crore enrolling in this scheme, it is apparent there is robust demand for digital literacy in rural districts. Another initiative is the Silver Surfer Program (SSP), which seeks to acquaint the elderly—especially those in rural areas—with the benefits of modern technology. SSP trains seniors on basic computer skills, internet usage, digital transactions, and works to generate awareness about cyber threats.
There is no denying that technology can help the elderly become a part of the country’s mainstream social network. Once this happens, online transactions—paying utility bills, banking, online bookings—can be a breeze, making life more enjoyable for senior citizens.
The author is Governing board member, HelpAge India