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TECH & CULTURE

Digitalization is making a difference in the lives of the elderly

By Staff Writer
March 24, 2022
In 2021, according to Statista, Japan had the largest percentage of total population over 65 years and is the world’s first super-aging society. An aging society presents challenges that can often be viewed as negatives, but does it necessarily have to be perceived as a problem? Between motivated and capable senior Japanese citizens from one side and a willing and attentive government from the other, Japan is working to turn that negative image around and assist the elderly in adjusting to the fast-paced and digitalized world that we live in.
A senior couple seated in front of a computer screen
As more elders take up the latest technology, there are many who are adapting it into their lives in new and exciting ways.

Examples of digital use by the elderly in Japan

An increasing number of senior citizens in Japan are proving that being elderly and using digital technology are not mutually exclusive. For instance, Ms. Wakamiya Masako, a Japanese elder, learned coding at the age of 81, and developed a game app that same year called “Hinadan,” the name for the tiered display altar used for dolls. The game is inspired by the annual Japanese doll festival or “hinamatsuri” and its goal is to teach users how to correctly place the Emperor and Empress dolls on the above-mentioned altar. 

Another example is Ms. Nishikage Sachiyo, an 83-year-old woman from the town of Kamikatsu, who produces “tsumamono,” decorative flowers and leaves used with traditional Japanese meals. She takes online orders for her products and uses SNS to disseminate information to customers abroad. Ms. Wakamiya first used a computer at the age of 60 and Ms. Nishikage when she was over 70 years old, both teaching themselves. Ms. Nishikage says she just kept pressing random buttons until she familiarized herself with the concept. Naturally, they had to overcome challenging obstacles throughout the process such as the display of programming languages and error messages in English.

Digital technology’s impact on the lives and issues of the elderly

Digital technology can provide several advantages to senior citizens, including an improved mental and physical health and a better social well-being. It allows them to stay informed about the latest information in their area, to communicate with their family members and relieve loneliness by helping them to feel more included. For instance, Ms. Nishikage started posting pictures of her “tsumamono” and of the scenery in Kamimatsu on social media, which has allowed her to make friends from all over the world. This new way of connecting to the world increased her happiness and motivation and led her to say that she wants to keep doing her business until she is at least a hundred years old.

Local governments’ efforts to promote the use of digital technology by the elderly

Japanese local governments are actively taking initiatives to promote digital technology to the elderly and encourage them to be more involved in this process. For instance, in September 2021, Shibuya Ward in Tokyo started lending smartphones to the elderly for free, and in three months around 1700 candidates had received theirs. Similarly, in December 2021, all families in Ohkura, a village in Yamagata prefecture, received a free tablet if they had a member aged 65 or more, a number that constitute 65% of the village’s population. The purpose of this initiative is to help senior citizens stay safe by providing them with disaster information that they can check whenever they want, as the one-time public announcements are not always sufficient. Apart from distributing smartphones and tablets, some governments focused on increasing the elderly’s knowledge of technology. On October 10, 2021, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government together with telecommunications enterprises, organized sessions in Nakano Ward in Tokyo in which all smartphones-related questions by the elderly were answered. These sessions took place in 30 different locations such as shopping malls and cultural centers. 
A doctor holding a tablet
Mobile technology is helping elderly residents to not only monitor their health, but also stay in close touch with their doctors.
The world can learn a lot from Japan’s approach of promoting the use of digital technology among its elderly. Hopefully, more seniors can reach the same state of mind as Ms. Wakamiya when she says: “Some people deny the reality of aging but it’s like competing against a setting sun, and I find it tiring. I would rather set with the sun and enjoy the sunset.” 
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