One of the great burdens of old age is the shrinking of one’s social circle and the reduced opportunities for communication. Technology is helping reverse this trend, allowing older people greater access to their friends and society at large
People are living longer lives, and cities the world over are experiencing a “silver tsunami”. Hong Kong is no exception – by 2034, 28 per cent of our population will be 65 or older. With places in elderly care homes becoming difficult to obtain and increasingly expensive, and the idea of “ageing in place”, where people stay in their own homes for as long as possible, is taking hold.
While remaining in one’s home may sound ideal, for some elderly people, especially those without spouses and with families overseas, being home alone can be an isolating experience.
Enter technology. While many tech-based solutions are in development which will make home life easier for the elderly, like smart refrigerators, smart medicine cabinets and smart lighting systems; these are still some distance away from becoming an affordable reality for most Hong Kong seniors.
For now, Hong Kong’s advanced telecommunications sector is the principal weapon against loneliness for the elderly, with a range of devices and apps designed specifically for seniors already on the market. On the hardware side, several mobile firms provide ‘safety phone’ service plans that offer phones with large keyboards, text-to speech functions, emergency link buttons and apps like e-See Find that allow contacts to trace the phone user’s location, should there be concerns for their well-being.
There are a plethora of free video calling apps available, of which Whatsapp and Skype are only two, which allow the elderly to stay in touch with their friends and relatives in real time; but other apps are improving senior’s social lives in different ways.
For the visually impaired, the Voice Reading app reads messages, emails and web pages aloud in several languages; Senior Monitor allows carers and family members to remotely check on their elderly charges through video and audiochannels; and numerous multiplayer games let seniors connect and play online with their friends.
There is back-end support as well, with organisations like the Senior Citizen Home Safety Association actively promoting cyber engagement for the elderly.
As our society ages, there will be no end of opportunities for start-ups looking to improvequality of life for the elderly, whether they offer hardware, software or support services.
Adapted with permission from the South China Morning Post