Helping the elderly in Malaysia keep up with technology


Senior citizens in Malaysia want to keep up with technology but feel that most people lack the patience to help them understand and remember how to use mobile applications and social media. — AZLINA BT ABDULLAH/The Star

Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp – most of us use a few, if not all, of these services.

We’re so used to today’s fast-moving technologies and social media that we tend to forget there are some for whom keeping up is a more challenging task.

Case in point: at a workshop meant to help familiarise the elderly with technology, Dr Tan Yun Yi met a participant who wanted to know if it was OK for him to leave comments on Facebook.

The Universiti Sains Malaysia senior lecturer with a PhD in digital education admitted that she was somewhat confused by the question and prompted him for more info. Tan (right) says the elderly are usually too ­embarrassed to ask their kids for help on tech. Aliff Afiq (left) meanwhile helped the participants learn how to take photos with their smartphones. — MOHD SAHAR MISNI/The StarTan (right) says the elderly are usually too ­embarrassed to ask their kids for help on tech. Aliff Afiq (left) meanwhile helped the participants learn how to take photos with their smartphones. — MOHD SAHAR MISNI/The Star

“He said he will just scroll through the app, and that he was scared because he thinks scammers will target him if he leaves comments,” Tan said.

Helping hand

The participant was part of a two-day pilot workshop called Bengkel Teknologi Senior at Multimedia University in Cyberjaya that Tan conducted to determine if the learning modules she designed are useful to teach tech to senior citizens.

She found that the elderly aged 60 and above in Malaysia may not be getting the help and attention needed to keep up with technology.

“During the free pilot workshop with 20 participants, we interviewed them about their feelings on the rapid advancement of technology,” Tan said.

She recalled how one participant in her workshop, a 73-year-old retiree, said although he can afford a smartphone, he finds it difficult to learn how to use the device effectively. Senior citizens in Malaysia have expressed concerns that there is no one with the patience to help them understand everyday technology such as smartphone apps and using social media. — 123rf.comSenior citizens in Malaysia have expressed concerns that there is no one with the patience to help them understand everyday technology such as smartphone apps and using social media. — 123rf.com

“They don’t know how to approach their children or anyone younger to help them about learning how to use certain apps. They feel embarrassed or worried that their concerns may sound like a stupid question,” Tan said.

Some of them also said they are aware that the younger generation lacks patience when it comes to helping the elderly understand technology, she shared.

“Their children or grandkids will say things like ‘I’ve already showed you how to do this so many times? Why can’t you remember?’,” Tan said.

Tan explained that Bengkel Teknologi Senior was initiated to help senior citizens overcome their fear and anxiety over technology.

“Some participants mentioned that they feel left out because they could not keep up because technology is moving too fast for them,” she said.

Tan was first inspired to come up with Bengkel Teknologi Senior when she was a student volunteering to assist the elderly in Hong Kong back in 2012.

Upon her return to Malaysia in 2017, Tan applied for a grant to fund Bengkel Teknologi Senior from Amanz NXT Initiative and held her first workshop in June this year.

Fun start

In Tan’s workshop, the first day is about helping the participants have fun through creative modules focusing on digital graphics and photography.

“These two modules are designed to help our participants overcome their anxiety and fear of technology through art creation,” she said. Participants at Tan's workshop will learn graphic design and understanding why youngsters love taking photos against colourful walls. — TAN YUN YIParticipants at Tan's workshop will learn graphic design and understanding why youngsters love taking photos against colourful walls. — TAN YUN YI

The participants will be exposed to an image editing software on desktop computers with facilitators helping them with a step-by-step guide.

“Initially, we were worried that they wouldn’t be able to use the software but we were wrong. The participants did well as they added their own elements by Googling for images and resources to use. Basically, they found their own way to express creativity,” she said.

For the photography module, Aliff Afiq Mohd Anuar, Multimedia University (MMU) assistant lecturer at the Faculty of Creative Multimedia, came on board to help the participants learn how to take photos with their smartphones.

“I will explain what makes photography interesting and how to use techniques like the rule of thirds to make their images stand out,” Aliff Afiq said.

Tan observed that the photography module is interesting to the participants because they also learned how to relate to the younger generation. Participants at Tan’s workshop found the module on ­photography interesting because it helped them relate to the younger generation. — TAN YUN YIParticipants at Tan’s workshop found the module on ­photography interesting because it helped them relate to the younger generation. — TAN YUN YI

“They will say things like ‘Oh, no wonder my grandchildren like to take pictures against the wall...’ and we believe they want to understand the younger generation.

“Fortunately, some of our facilitators are young volunteers who can help to explain certain trends that are popular with the youngsters on social media,” Tan said, adding that most people forget that senior citizens are digital immigrants.

“All these technologies like social media and mobile apps did not exist way back when the senior citizens were growing up.” Taking initiative

The president of the National Council of Senior Citizens Organisations Malaysia (Nacscom) Datuk Soon Ting Kueh said he doesn’t leave home without his phone because it has become a necessity. Soon hopes to see more senior ­citizens use technology to keep themselves connected as this could help prevent depression and loneliness. — AZHAR MAHFOF/The StarSoon hopes to see more senior ­citizens use technology to keep themselves connected as this could help prevent depression and loneliness. — AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star

Soon, who is in his 70s, also shared that he’s not tech savvy but he tries to keep himself updated with technology by learning how to use software like Microsoft PowerPoint for presentations and Skype to stay in touch with family.

“When Microsoft Word first became popular, it was a strange thing to me. But part of my survival game is I cannot say ‘I don’t know’ anymore. I need to know and I have to learn on my own.”

He also noticed the disconnect between technology and senior citizens, citing the bank as an example.

“Expecting senior citizens to understand terms like cashless and services like online payment is a bit too much,” he said.

Damansara Jaya Senior Citizen Association (DJSCA) president Wee Bheng Khim wants to see relevant ministries come up with initiatives to help seniors overcome their unfamiliarity with technology. “Perhaps, they can touch on topics like online banking and how to use mobile phones for e-hailing,” he said.

Wee said DJSCA has initiated at least 10 talks on technology so far, including one in May this year for its members to learn how to use apps like SmartSelangor and JomParking with their smartphones.

He hopes that whoever decides to give an awareness talk about technology to the elderly will consider using a simple approach with step-by-step guides.

“You can teach senior citizens something today but they will forget easily, so you would need a lot of patience as well. You cannot expect them to keep up right away,” he said. Staying safe online

On the second day of Tan’s workshop, participants were exposed to subjects like how to stay safe online which was one of their main concerns.

“We had our most active discussion on cybersecurity. The seniors said although they have read a lot of stories about others getting scammed, they feel there is not much information on what to do if they get a scam call or message,” she said. Wee wants to see relevant ­ministries come up with useful ­initiatives to help seniors overcome their fear of technology. — AZLINA BT ABDULLAH/The StarWee wants to see relevant ­ministries come up with useful ­initiatives to help seniors overcome their fear of technology. — AZLINA BT ABDULLAH/The Star

The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) advised victims of scams to lodge a police report for further investigation.

“MCMC will provide technical assistance to the police and guide complainants on how to deactivate social media account as well as advising them to stop communicating with the scammer,” it said in a statement.

The regulatory body also urged senior citizens to use its Sebenarnya.my portal and look out for a section called “Waspada” to read the latest news on scam tactics.

Additionally, it advised senior citizens to follow the Cyber Crime Alert Royal Malaysia Police Facebook page to stay updated on cybercrimes.

Wee said that this was also a concern in the DJSCA community.

“We have also invited an Inspector from the Selangor police headquarters to educate our members about online scams. The problem is, there are not a lot of individuals who are available to teach senior citizens,” he said.

Unlocking independence

The final module in Tan’s workshop focuses on helping the participants learn four essential mobile applications that she believes will help them become independent.

“We teach them to use mobile apps for ride-hailing, ordering food, shopping and navigation. We want them to know they can be independent and not rely on anyone else,” Tan said.

Tan plans to hold at least 10 workshops next year, starting at MMU’s Faculty of Cinematic Arts (FCA) in Johor before moving on to other states.

Updates will be available on the Bengkel Teknologi Senior Facebook page. “We are currently working with the FCA lecturers on the strategies to help senior citizens learn about video production via free apps and low cost prop materials,” she said.

At the end of the session, Tan hopes to see her participants create their own videos and share their life stories with the younger generation.

“They are also able to create their own commercials to be uploaded online if they wish to start their own business. With this module, we intend to spark the senior’s entrepreneurial skills and support digital content creation from the comfort of their homes,” she said.

More help may be coming for other senior citizens. StarLifestyle reached out to the Selangor Social Welfare Department (JKM Selangor) to find out if there are any classes or talks on learning about technology at the senior citizens activity centres (Pusat Aktiviti Warga Emas or Pawe) located in the state.

According to JKM Selangor director Mohammad Hanafi Haji Maulad, there are 16 Pawe centres in the states. He admitted that JKM Selangor has yet to conduct any activities or talks related to technology particularly on the use of smartphones for senior citizens. Mohammad Hanafi says JKM Selangor plans to hold a seminar next year on technology and the use of mobile phones for seniors. — SS KANESAN/The StarMohammad Hanafi says JKM Selangor plans to hold a seminar next year on technology and the use of mobile phones for seniors. — SS KANESAN/The Star

“It’s a good suggestion as more awareness is useful to help senior citizens prevent themselves from becoming victims of online scams,” he said.

Mohammad Hanafi added that JKM Selangor will propose a seminar on technology and the use of mobile phones for senior citizens at Pawe centres in 2020.

“The programme will be in line with our National Older Persons Policy to keep senior citizens in Malaysia safe.”

As for Wee, he said DJSCA will keep the members informed through constant communication with each other.

“We have a WhatsApp group for everyone to alert and help one another. If anything, we will learn how to understand technology together,” Wee shared.

Nacscom’s Soon hopes to see more senior citizens use technology to keep themselves connected.

“Loneliness is one of the biggest impacts of getting older. A lot of senior citizens feel lonely and they become depressed,” he said.

He advised them to stay connected by going online, enjoying music or watching videos on YouTube and reading the news.

“We have to find ways to stay connected with the rest of the world,” he said.

Technology is crucial for the elderly to stay in touch with family and friends, and also live independently, but it has a darker side. Look out for StarLifestyle’s cover on Dec 23 on the effects of too much tech on seniors.

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