Aging in the digital world
By Mia Hem
Digital technologies can facilitate new skills, social interactions, foster independence, autonomous living, and improve management and delivery of health and social care services for the aging population. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that there is an unequal access to digital technologies. Among others, the older population are more prone to be digitally excluded and experience barriers in accessing goods and services provided online. This results in a decline of opportunities for active and healthy aging. A way to empower aging individuals would be by providing access to digital technologies and enhancing digital literacy, age-friendly design and relevance of digital services. It is important to keep in mind that such tools must be created in a way that is ageism-free, ethical and ensures safe digital environments that grasp the diversity of aging populations and their needs.
The barriers to be found in the digital divide include the lack of digital skills, the effect of stereotypes directed at ageism, design that is not friendly towards the users of older age and physical and cognitive impairments are not taken into proper consideration. So how can we move towards a more inclusive and empowering digital world for older persons? There is the need to ensure access to goods and services that involve digital technology. There are multiple elements to consider here: we need to ensure that everyone has access to internet, technologies (through financial support), the design should be age-friendly, participation should be encouraged in the design and co-design processes, tailored support can be provided in the use of everyday services such as e-banking, e-government, e-commerce, and e-learning. It is also important to consider the fact that not everyone wants to use the online access, thus maintaining offline access and support at an equal level with the online experience. Moreover, we must ensure digital literacy to reduce the digital skills gap. This can be done, for example, by tackling the ageism stereotypes about older technology users and ensuring proper training to safely and securely navigate digital environments. With this, we can leverage the potential of digital technologies for active and healthy aging, in which the use of digital technology can assist in reducing loneliness, enhance connections, foster healthy and independent living. Furthermore, it is important to protect the rights and dignity of older persons in the digital era, keeping in mind autonomy, privacy, participation in decision-making, and free and informed consent in the use of digital technologies.
Older people's valuable life experiences and diverse perspectives are crucial when trying to minimize the digital divide and the creation of a digital world for people of all ages. We must consider what their needs are and what kind of services they could benefit from on an individual level, in a way in which they feel included and comfortable in its use. The examples mentioned above are some of the ways in which we can achieve universal connectivity where older people are included and made active part of the Digital Revolution.