Digital Technologies for Older Persons and Healthy Ageing

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 The purpose of World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) is to help raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICT) can bring to societies and economies, as well as of ways to bridge the digital divide.

 17 May marks the anniversary of the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention and the creation of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). World Telecommunication Day has been celebrated annually on 17 May since 1969, marking the founding of ITU and the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention in 1865.

 The Telecommunication Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) stated that the main purpose of WTISD is to help raise awareness of the use of ICT for socio-economic development in tandem with bridging the digital divide. The theme for 2022 is, ‘Digital Technologies for Older Persons and Healthy Ageing’ which emphasises the role of digital technologies in achieving healthier ageing and addresses the importance of being prepared to respond to the future needs and requirements of the ageing population.

 The ageing of the global population will be the defining demographic trend of the 21st century, yet our societies struggle to see the opportunities that this trend can unfold. Telecommunications and ICT have a role to play in achieving healthier ageing, but also in helping people build smarter cities, combat age-based discrimination at the workplace, ensure financial inclusion of older persons, and support millions of caregivers across the world.

 “Equitable access to digital technologies isn’t just a moral responsibility, it’s essential for global prosperity and sustainability”.

 “Population ageing is recognised as one of the global demographic megatrends. The elderly population has always been considered an asset to their families, communities and societies. However, they have sometimes been perceived as a vulnerable group dependent on young generations. With the rapid advancement of cutting-edge technologies, this vulnerable group can be transformed into a valuable group,” the TRCSL stated.

 Taking this fact into account, it is evident that digital technologies are versatile in enabling elderly people to contribute to the socio-economic development of the country. ICT plays a catalytic role in creating opportunities for people in almost every aspect of their lives. As everyday services move online and societies become networked by means of ICT, the ageing population tend to get sidelined in the digital era which embraces fast-growing innovation in digital technology.

 The accelerated digital transformation during the Covid-19 pandemic has further highlighted the issues relating to digital equity of all ages, as many elders struggled to access essential goods and services online. Therefore, our dependence on ICTs brings out the necessity to address the ‘digital divide’ between generations and to give policy priorities on the importance of digital inclusion for older persons.

 Meanwhile, the ITU Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao stated that humanity and technology are at a turning point. During the pandemic, the world has seen what digital technologies can do and how they can transform our future. Emerging digital technologies in fields from 5G and the Internet of  Things (IoT) to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cloud computing are pushing the boundaries of what’s impossible.

“Great possibilities come with great responsibilities. Close to three billion people are still unconnected, with the majority of them living in developing countries. This includes more than 1 billion people aged 60 years or older. This group of the population, which is growing larger and larger, has greatly contributed to the social and economic achievements of our time. With the passing of time, they are now facing new opportunities and challenges. They deserve our care and help. Further, I’m calling everyone to share what has worked and what else can be done to help older persons become active participants in, and valuable contributors to the digital world,” said Zhao.

 “Nearly half of humanity still has no access to the internet. We must connect everyone, everywhere by the end of 2030, because leaving no one behind means leaving no one offline. At the same time, we must take action to prevent and reduce the dangers of information technology, including the spread of misinformation and the exploitation of personal data. This is the vision of my Roadmap for Digital cooperation to embrace the promise of digital technology while protecting people from its perils. Let us commit to working together to ensure that technology is equitable, safe, and affordable for all people and all ages,” UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres said.

By Eunice Ruth