This year, the theme for the UN's International Day of Older People, centred around tapping into the talents and contributions of older people in society. It frustrates me to see, time and time again, the suggestion that seniors are a group of people who all share the same characteristics; lacking independence, infirm, unwell. This view, often portrayed by the media, dehumanises people of an older generation, making us forget the wealth of knowledge that they share, and the many things that we can learn from them. In fact, for many, our senior days are our happiest - we have more time to reconnect with our passions, to travel, and to spend time with our loved ones. The perception of the elderly as fragile and broken is dangerous, and isolating people because of their age should not be as commonplace as it has become.
The removal of seniors from society is something that has been widely reported. Age UK, for example, released research that shows that in the UK, half a million people over the age of 60 usually spend each day alone. This shocking fact can be attributed in part to the abrupt removal of family networks from an older person's life - children leaving home, partners passing away - but also to a lack of communication between older and younger generations. Historically, and still in some modern day cultures, grandparents and great grandparents were the heart of a family unit. We asked our elders to advise us, and to share their wealth of knowledge and experience as and when needed. We need to go back to this way of thinking, and bring our older relatives back into the family fold by involving them in our everyday lives. The importance of regular communication, in this instance, cannot be overstated.
Given the possibilities offered by technology, we at No Isolation believe that the solution to solving the epidemic of loneliness amongst this age group is well within our reach. In our ongoing research for KOMP, our new product aimed at seniors, we have learnt that IT does not play a role in the day-to-day lives of many senior citizens. Existing communication tools are not offering them what they need, because they are are not tailored for individuals with no, or limited, digital skills.
For example, touch screen designs rely on the assumption that a senior will inherently know how to use this technology. This intuition is often not present for elderly users: they are sometimes not able to see what to do on a small screen, nor do they always understand that a button or switch can be embedded in the screen, and not something that needs physically pushing or rotating.
For a solution to work, it is vital that we develop new products in collaboration with seniors themselves. We need to learn about their day-to-day lives, assess their needs based on their own words and ask them for their feedback. Only then will the product that we create address the technology needs of a senior, not our own.
We also know that the needs of seniors vary hugely, and that we'll need to develop numerous solutions. Our first offering has been developed to help seniors that already have a network of friends or family. It also provides an answer the problem highlighted by the UN International Day of Older People, by reinstating the senior's status as the heart of the family. We learn from the past, and we cannot simply shut the door on it. KOMP throws the door back open, and invites us all to learn from, and communicate with, the people closest to us.