You’d be forgiven for thinking technology is a young person’s game: designed by young people for young people. It’s the impression you get from adverts, conferences, news articles and so on. But the world’s population is ageing: the World Health Organisation says that between 2000 and 2050, the number of people aged 60 and over will more than triple from 600 million to 2 billion.
That’s a lot of people who’ll be wanting and needingto use technology to help with everyday life, just as the younger generation does.
But while the younger generation has technology thrust down its collective throat, and seemingly has no trouble understanding and using it, I don’t think the same can be said of the older generation. Adverts for tech products and services are dominated by younger people and there’s no doubt who the target audience is… and it’s not your great auntie Ethel.
I think there is a danger that we patronise older people when it comes to using technology, that we approach it from a point of total ineptitude.
There’s a famous meme called “grandma finds the internet” that crops up every so often on sites like Reddit and other forums of an old lady sat in front of a computer with a confused and bewildered look on her face.
That seems to be the predominant impression society has about older people using technology, but I don’t think it’s entirely correct.I remember a few years back loading up my iPad with photos of a trip I’d been on so I could show them to my grandma, who at the time was 92 years old. I demonstrated swiping the screen to move to the next photo, and she immediately got it – no questions, no confusion.
Maybe, hopefully, the attitudes are changing. It seems that companies are taking technology for seniors a bit more seriously these days. Instead of just making the buttons bigger, tech is now being designed to really meet the needs of the older generation.
Take the recent initiative between Apple and IBM, for example. The two have teamed up to create special apps for iPads that will help seniors in three crucial aspects: monitoring health, appointment and medication reminders, and connecting with home care services.
There will be some elements I mentioned earlier, like bigger buttons and text, but this initiative seems to dive a little deeper into what’s needed: Siri will read emails and text, for example, and Watson, IBM’s machine learning system, will be on hand to monitor and adapt to the way seniors use the apps.
Health is one of the areas where technology is being used to help the elderly. Remote monitoring and consultations via video link can reduce the need for hospital visits, which dramatically reduces the strain on health service providers. The Internet of Things (IoT) plays a part here; sensors can monitor a range of health-related elements, from heartbeat to blood pressure to whether someone has had a fall at home.
These technological developments are aimed at prolonging independence, not just in terms of health and reliance on government-provided services but also in terms of keeping in touch with other people – family and friends that may be spread far and wide.
Technology aimed at the younger generation can play a part as well. Games for PCs and mobile devices can help to keep the brain engaged and involved, especially if it’s a game that can be played with family members that aren’t nearby: crosswords, Sudoku, Scrabble, even something like Monument Valley, Candy Crush Saga or Bejeweled can work wonders.
Tech for the elderly is gaining interest across Silicon Valley, so much so that there is now a VC firm focused on tech for seniors. Generator Ventures will be targeting sensors, wearable health trackers and smart-home technologies. One of their investments has been EverPlans, a company that helps users organise and digitise all important legal, financial and health documents so relatives know where to find them when needed.