Publish date: 17 Sep 2021
Safe distancing measures and restrictions on social gatherings have disrupted all our lives, with the elderly feeling the most displaced. While most of us are fluent with connecting online whether with friends, in our work or in procrastination, our older counterparts go about their day in the analogue– they chat with their kaki in the coffee shop, they go to the wet market to feel up the right fruit, or ensemble with their tai chi groups in the park at the same time every morning. When the pandemic came, it narrowed many a senior’s world to their domestic environment and a TV set.
With the possibility of Covid restrictions phasing in and out every few months, getting in on the digital world is one way seniors can get more out of life today. Instead of expecting the elderly to maneuver through the risky arm’s-length apart conditions outside, the government has rolled out various initiatives to help bring the world to their fingertips. The Seniors Go Digital programme is designed to grow digital literacy among seniors; and the Mobile Access for Seniors scheme ensures that lower-income seniors can get subsidised smartphones and phone plans.
Digital ambassadors are readily available to provide one-on-one help to seniors on how to use smartphones for communicating online, accessing digital government services and making electronic payments. With these basic skills, the possibilities are endless online– browsing one’s favourite market, video chatting with a grandchild, making moves for Tiktok (jk, but you never know).
While digital ambassadors are on stand-by, tech-savvy generation out there could also lend a hand. LifeSG is one app that offers a multitude of easy-to-use features for seniors to explore with their kin. It really is a great conduit for the younger generation to connect with older folk.
We met with several seniors that were beginning to explore using their mobile phone beyond just a calling device— in the quest to find out what their experiences were. Here’s what we learned about what worked for them and how we can best help:
Finding out what motivates our seniors to get up everyday can be a meaningful way to get to know them. Are they currently pursuing a life goal? Do they have a passion for literature or art? A hidden desire to play the erhu or basketball? Do they miss their friends? Technology should always be relevant to its user. Starting with how online platforms can meet their unique needs or interests is a great introduction to digitisation.
Mr. and Mrs. Shah were looking to move into a new flat to be closer to their daughter. They had stayed in the same place for over 20 years and lost touch with the process of buying a new home. LifeSG’s ‘Housing and Property’ feature consolidates key information to simplify the buying or selling process. The step-by-step guide enabled the Shahs to comfortably explore their options and land on their new home.
Imagine being lost in a foreign place without a map, and not speaking the language— how would you feel? For many seniors who never had a smartphone, understanding its interface can be very disorienting. They’re finding their footing with a completely new tool, coupled with the fear of making irreversible mistakes or failing. Understanding how seniors feel about going online revealed insights about their reservations with technology. Unfamiliarity with the function of different “virtual buttons” that lead to “actions only visible later”, and wariness of online scammers were common reasons we heard from the group we met.
One fear that a few seniors faced is ending up with a large telephone bill due to being “always connected” to the internet. Let them know that this is not the case. Our telecom companies are all on board to help seniors go digital. Heavily subsidised mobile plans for seniors from Starhub, Singtel, TPG and M1, can go as low as $5. Perks such as ‘no excess data charges’ and ‘free caller ID’ are also available— combating fears of high bills and unknown callers!
A shared activity can provide a safe and encouraging first step into the digital world. Start with small easy tasks that offer a quick sense of accomplishment, and always introduce apps that resonate with their interests or worries. You may uncover more fears and barriers that go through their minds during the process.
On one of our Merdeka Generation roadshows, we met Aunty Elmira, a housewife whose recent 60th birthday motivated her to get more familiar with her smartphone. However, she did not anticipate how frustrating the experience would be for her. Aunty Elmira had downloaded the Facebook app but could not figure out how to navigate it from section to section. She told us, “new technology nowadays does not seem to be made for older people like me”.
We listened to her share with us all the activities she hoped to do on her smartphone— connect with friends who had moved away, find different shopping deals online, watch her granddaughters’ “joget on tiktok”. Then our volunteer on duty spent some time walking her through the different functions of the phone and how to understand the pathways they opened up. Aunty Elmira connected particularly with the metaphor of a work desk with different stationery and tools— calendar, folders, camera, stamped envelope with a miniature post office to mail it right away!
After reloading her own homepage on her own, she had a big smile on her face, “I didn’t know that there is so much more I can do with this phone! My children are always talking about Telegram and Instagram but I have no idea what it is. Knowing that there are people teaching senior citizens about social media at Community Centres, I can now participate in their conversations. I am also looking forward to show off my Merdeka Card from my profile page to enjoy discounts while grocery shopping!”
It is easy to get flustered and frustrated when it comes to learning something novel after years of habit. Plenty of patience with gentle nudging helps seniors not feel like giving up.
At age 66, Mrs. Lee is an expert at navigating social media to catch-up with friends and her favourite cooking content. But getting there was a trek. “I felt bad having to trouble my husband and daughter at the start because I didn’t know what to press and where the screen would disappear to... but after they showed me and did it a few times on my own, it was not that difficult!”
Positive feedback helps with confidence and memory. “Seniors worry about not being able to remember how to do something new”, shared Steve, a volunteer at a community centre elderly care program. “It is also important to assure seniors that they are not taking up the time of others— this is a common worry elderly have.”
OnePA has a plenty of online/offline activities across interests, age groups and classes for seniors— ‘Conversational English’, ‘Singing Group’, ‘Line Dancing’, and ‘Strengthening Lower Limb Exercises for Seniors’, to name a few. On-demand digital content also means it is available immediately. This reduces the need to go through tedious registration processes. The online nature of these activities also make it more convenient for shy volunteers or members of the household to join in, in the background.
Getting seniors to go digital has been a priority since May 2020. IMDA’s Seniors Go Digital Activity Pack is an important step in driving community outreach. Digital literacy has helped elderly population combat loneliness and boredom during the pandemic. Especially in a fast-paced city like Singapore. Across the globe, seniors who stay connected also feel included and happier.
If you’ve any other tips or experiences to share in helping seniors go digital, we’d love to hear from you!