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Our frail and senile citizens do need our empathies!

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Weak old man with hip pain - PNG, vector EPS, PDF (infinitely scOur frail and senile citizens do need our empathies as the elderly population is growing in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.  This has called for an increasing need for a drive via technological advancements to help these respected elders

By Nazarul Islam

As the proportion of elderly population is growing in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh— an alarming situation has developed. This has called for an increasing need for a drive via technological advancements, to enhance cashless and digital transactions, and support institutional services offered to the respected elders. A large section of senior citizens (old people) are becoming dependent on financial institutions, mainly banks.

Many older adults seem to like pursuing their banking needs with Public Sector Banks, while the younger generation is inclined towards newly established, private banks. While the need for service provision in public sector banks is going up, over the last few years many private banks have been merged and reportedly their staffing has come down— creating a deficit in service provision.

Although the private banks loudly claim to offer service delivery at doorstep particularly for senior citizens by some banks, it seems all this has not yet been implemented.

We need to understand that Ageing is associated with general slowing in movement, thinking and processing of information, in addition to difficulties in vision or hearing. The aged also have difficulty in walking, and standing up, for longer periods. Many suffer from physical ailments like diabetes, hypertension and other diseases affecting the blood vessels mainly those carrying blood to the heart and brain.

Along with these, many have to take medications and need to make regular visits to the hospitals, for check-ups and blood tests, for which they need to perform money transactions. Reliable and safe Transportation is also be another issue, which impacts the elder people in our society.

Subjected to these hardships that elderly people have been exposed to—and their inability to catch up with the simple functions of personal computers, laptops tablets and hand held devices, one cannot expect them to learn to do online banking or to operate their smartphones by themselves.

Again, this weak and dependent section of our society is required to face another challenge:  the daunting task of remembering many passwords, which if it forgotten lead to a cascade of events that need resolving, resulting in delay in completing even simple financial transactions.

Painfully so, this has only added to mental fatigue and causes more stress.

Foremost, our society needs to find answers to a pressing question. Who is responsible to train its senior citizens to use computers, web programs and latest technology? One wonders if the senior citizen representation or relevant NGOs were consulted before implementation of the online system.

If this is mostly the issue in urban areas, one can imagine the service provision in rural areas. Society cannot expect its senior citizens to learn the skills of performing online banking and transactions to the same extent it expects this from the younger generation.

The staff members at banks, however, seem to be unable to patiently sit with elderly persons to assist them in learning to do online banking every time.

Perhaps there are just one or two NGOs offering free training for senior citizens in the use of smartphones, but hardly anyone is training them to adapt to online banking and financial transactions so as to create confidence. And this signifies that senior citizens not just in rural areas, but also in urban areas who have lived to (unwillingly) depend on their younger family members or relatives. The younger people often delay this ordeal, as interaction with the younger generation comes with more frustrations and lesser joys. Therefore, learning the skills, leaves room for financial exploitation.

Again if elderly among us are suffering due to undetected Mild Cognitive Impairment or have early signs of Dementia that affects their ability to manage finances, then there seems to be no system in place to assist or serve them in their best interest. If the wife of this person is dependent on his ability to manage finances, and has to urgently pay for his medical bills, then it is nothing, but the task of running from pillar to post.

Many females belonging to the Baby Boomer generation are housewives with minimal education. Many of these female senior citizens hardly have skills to do normal banking, let alone the ability to do it online. Financial transaction is a very basic issue, the easier it is, the better for the elderly persons.

Elderly females could try to equip themselves with skills to use the system, by learning with their husbands or their children. NGOs also must try and look to close this gap in digital literacy. Financial Institutions advisories focus mainly on making money out of money. Most likely they would be trying to secure already saved money and want to make easier and secure transactions.

There must be a separate Standard Operating Procedure (fair practices for interaction) for senior citizens in all banks. A comfortable booth (counter) with a dedicated, sensitized and well-trained staff member must be available for senior citizens. If needed, the bank should arrange to offer home visit services. The bank environment must be made age friendly similar to what exists for the differently- abled people.

All staff members should be sensitized and trained in terms of customer care skills including communication and soft skills in this respect. Financial institutions and the State must focus beyond just perks in terms of higher rate of interest for Fixed Deposits as it is entirely their intention to make transactions mostly digital.

I am sure that these measures will enhance social support, reduce stress, and thus promote mental health of older adults.

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About the Author

Nazarul IslamThe Bengal-born writer is a senior educationist based in USA. He writes for Sindh Courier and the newspapers of Bangladesh, India and America.