As Singapore's growing graying society looms, national efforts to help the elderly become more IT-savvy are bearing fruit, according to the government, which is also looking to pump funds to introduce assistive technologies and enable the silver community live more independently.
Under the country's iN2015 masterplan, senior citizens are identified as a target community that needs focus strategies to boost their infocomm usage, a spokesperson from the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) said in an e-mail interview.By 2030, 1 in 5 Singapore residents will be 65 years and above, according to a report by Singapore's Ministry of Community Development and Sports (MCYS).
The IDA spokesperson said: "There is a genuine need to create awareness and educate senior citizens about IT applications, gadgets and the use of the Internet [in a digital age]."
To this end, he said the government launched its six-year Silver Infocomm Initiative (SII) in November 2007 to increase awareness, access and support of IT use among the elderly. Funding for the program was increased from S$2.5 million (US$1.9 million) to S$4.2 million (US$3.2 million) last month due to the initiative's "popularity and growing demand", he added.
IDA statistics indicate that 44 percent of computer users in 2009 were aged 50 to 59, compared to 43 percent in 2008. Of this age group, 42 percent accessed the Internet last year, compared to 40 percent in 2008.
Commenting on the perception that IT and the elderly do not mix, the IDA spokesperson said this is "slowly changing" as evident from this year's Silver Infocomm Day which attracted more than 5,000 participants, more than double that of the previous year.
Enterprises can also play an active role to help the elderly familiarize with IT as a form of social responsibility, he added.
Microsoft Singapore, for example, in May 2010 joined the Retired & Senior Volunteer Programme (RSVP)--part of the Organization of Senior Volunteers--to start its Microsoft Unlimited Potential (MUP), a three-year scheme aimed at training seniors with basic IT skills that can enhance their employability.
Verdayne Nunis, central marketing and PR group manager at Microsoft Singapore, said in an e-mail that the goal of MUP is "to invest where the help is most needed and where technology can make an impact. "Enabling seniors with technology is great way bridge the inter-generational divide and to enable them to seek new job opportunities," she said.
Independent living with assistive technologies
Technology should also be leveraged to help the Singapore's live independent and active lives, especially when the dependency ratio has dropped from 10:1 in 1999 to 8:3 in 2009, where only eight working adults were available to support every three elderly folks, compared to 10 working adults for every one elderly in 1999.
In an e-mail interview, Ovum's research director Steve Hodgkinson noted that in a graying society, the growing number of elderly people--as a proportion of the population--puts an increasing strain on the country's healthcare system.
To address this issue, some governments are implementing policies that aim to enable the elderly to continue to "live independently in their own homes for longer", Hodgkinson said.
A spokesperson from the MCYS told ZDNet Asia: "The demand for solutions to enable seniors with care needs to live at home and manage their own health independently [is growing] rapidly." As such, the government recently more than tripled the initial funding for its Silver Community Test-Bed Program (SCTBP) from S$3 million (US$2.3 million) to S$10 million (US$7.5 million) over the next two years.
Launched in 2008, the SCTBP offers grants ranging from 30 to 80 percent of overall cost to support local businesses and investors that develop products designed specifically to enhance the safety and independent quality of life for the elderly.
According to the MCYS spokesperson, response for the SCTBP has been "positive". He said S$1.5 million (US$1.1million) in government funds have been given out so far to 12 participating companies.
ADT Security Services, one of the enterprises which received a grant, built the ADT Care Alert system to help "provide [the elderly] with immediate assistance they require at any time", said Charles Lim, Singapore country manager at ADT.
The Care Alert system is a wireless emergency pendant--worn around the wrist--that can be activated with a push of a button. This would trigger a call to ADT's alarm monitoring center where a security officer can then respond and provide emergency assistance to the elderly.