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Health and well-being top digital benefits for older people

By ITU News

This year’s World Telecommunication and Information Society Day focuses on digital technologies for older persons and healthy ageing. From financial technologies (fintech) designed for older persons to mobile apps to support caregivers, digital engagement can empower older people, amplifying their contribution within their families, local communities and society.

In the run-up to the day, we asked our online community following the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) via Twitter and LinkedIn how technology could best support older people as active participants in an increasingly digital world.

Poll results

When asked where digital technologies could most support older people to be active participants in a digital society, health and well-being came out on top, capturing 53 per cent of the votes on Twitter.

Be He@lthy, Be Mobile – a joint initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO) and ITU – harnesses the reach of mobile networks and portable devices to address noncommunicable diseases such as dementia and hypertension, which mainly affect older persons.

Coming in second at 20 per cent was lifelong learning – which, according to research, by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) plays a central role in promoting well-being and quality of life after retirement.

On LinkedIn, a narrower gap separated health and well-being (38 per cent) from independent living (26 per cent) and socio-economic inclusion (25 per cent).

The so-called “silver economy” — or economic activity associated with ageing, from home care to age-related treatments to fintech innovations around retirement — is worth an estimated USD 17 trillion, according to the Global Coalition on Aging.

The poll’s evenly spread results on both platforms echo the comment of one respondent, Rosa Maria Torres, about where technologies can help the elderly participate more actively in society: “All of them.”

Addressing older populations

Today, people aged 60 years or older already outnumber the world’s children under five. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the 60-plus population is set to grow globally, reaching 1.4 billion by 2030.

By 2050, this number is expected to double, with a large majority of older people by that time – around 80 per cent – living in low and middle-income countries.

Among the challenges coming with ageing societies, a key one is rising pressure on healthcare systems and services, many of which are also coping with the lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. But addressing the needs of the growing senior population remains an essential part of making the world more inclusive and prosperous for all.

Here are some ways policy-makers, businesses, academia, and other stakeholders can work together to include older adults in the digital society and economy:

  • Governments can promote digital inclusion to ensure all citizens – including older adults – can actively participate by, for example, adopting age-friendly technology standards, incentivizing institutions and developers, and prioritizing digital literacy. Policy-makers can also lower preventative health costs by scaling up e-health services to reach all demographics, including older persons.
  • Businesses can develop products and services to be useable, affordable, available, and accessible for everyone. This could include special data packages and service plans with discounts for people over 60. Explaining technologies in simple rather than technical terms can help, as can adjustments to address age-related conditions that may prevent older people from using certain technologies or devices.
  • Academia can offer continuing education courses for older learners through digital platforms, as well as incorporate older adults into peer training programmes.

Information and communication technology (ICT) accessibility requirements and standards must be considered from the design stage to ensure that products and services are accessible to all. For example, the forthcoming joint standard F.780.2 from ITU and WHO on accessibility of telehealth services is critical to make health services usable by everyone, including older people.   

More recommendations on how to create an inclusive, accessible digital economy amid a rapidly ageing population can be found in the ITU report Ageing in a Digital World and in the on-line self-paced training ICTs for better ageing and livelihood in the digital landscape, available free of charge and in accessible formats in English, French and Spanish.

Image credit: Marcus Aurelius via Pexels

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