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International Day of Older Persons

1st October marks the United Nations International Day of Older Persons 2021.

This year’s theme is Digital Equity for All Ages which predicates the need for access and meaningful participation in the digital world by older persons.

The United Nations writes:
The fourth industrial revolution characterised by rapid digital innovation, characterised by exponential growth has transformed all sectors of society including how we live, work and relate to one another. Technological advances offer great hope for accelerating progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Yet, one-half of the global population is off-line, with the starkest differences reflected between most and least developed countries (87% and 19% respectively) (ITU Facts and Figures 2020).
Recent reports by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) indicate that women and older persons experience digital inequity to a greater extent than other groups in society; they either lack access to technologies or are often not benefitting fully from the opportunities provided by technological progress.” 

The Coronavirus Pandemic has demonstrated to everyone the benefits of and need for digital technology. As children had lessons online and more meetings were held ‘virtually’ than ever before, for older people technology became a lifeline to keep in touch with family and friends when meeting face to face was not possible. Indeed at the Global Ageing Network’s Virtual Conference in September Joseph F Coughlin, Director at the MIT AgeLab, said that in his opinion the pandemic had accelerated the adoption of technology amongst older people by 5-7 years. This assertion is supported by the UK Consumer Digital Consumer Index 2021, which states that 11% of people over 60 increased their digital engagement score by more than 20 points (to move up one segment). This, the organisation says is “indicating a leap forward in digital capability rather than a step”. 

Yet challenges still remain. Older people may be using technology more than they were, but this usage varies widely by socio-economic group. The UK Consumer Digital Consumer Index 2021 states that older less affluent groups are more likely to make up the group who have decreased their engagement since last year – and yet this group could be one of the key beneficiaries of the technology now available, a point made by the United Nations above.

The Index also asserts that whilst usage of screen readers and dexterity tool usage are both over-indexed in the 30-39s they are very underindexed in the older age groups, which could benefit hugely from this type of technology.

However a drive to improve digital equity does come with risks, which are also recognised by the UN. One of the main risks is that older people may fall victim to cybercrime. Age UK statistics acquired from Action Fraud revealed that older people in England and Wales were scammed out of over £2.4m during lockdown because of COVID-19 related fraud , so teaching older people to be safe online must go hand-in-hand with encouraging digital accessibility.

The Objectives of #UNIDOP2021 have been set out as:

·       Ageism & Human Rights
To bring awareness of the importance of digital inclusion of older persons, while tackling stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination associated with digitalization taking into account sociocultural norms and the right to autonomy.
·       Sustainable Development
To highlight policies to leverage digital technologies for full achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
·       Access & Literacy
To address public and private interests, in the areas of availability, connectivity, design, affordability, capacity building, infrastructure, and innovation.
·       Cybersecurity & Ethics
To explore the role of policies and legal frameworks to ensure privacy and safety of older persons in the digital world.
·       Accountability
To highlight the need for a legally binding instrument on the rights of older persons and an intersectional person-centred human rights approach for a society for all ages.
At Standards Wise International we welcome the focus which the UN is putting on digital equality for older people. Through greater, safe, digital usage, older people can gain higher levels of inclusion and integration into society as activities and communication move ever more into a virtual world. 
However, as revealed by the report, Covid-19, Inter-household Contact and Mental Wellbeing Among Older Adults in the US and the UK, we must not rely solely on virtual connections for older people.
In this report, researchers were surprised to find that an older person who had only virtual contact during lockdown experienced greater loneliness and negative mental health impacts than an older person who had no contact with other people at all.
While technology can keep us connected in many ways, it cannot compensate for missing out on physical social interactions; as technology plays an increasingly larger part in delivering care, we must not lose sight of the importance of the human touch in the virtual world. 
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