Smartphones making elders feel neglected, says study
Senior citizens in India nurse the feeling that they are being neglected and disrespected because of all the attention that their adult children devote to their smartphones and the social media, according to a report published on Thursday, the eve of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
The annual study by HelpAge India, a charity that works with and for the disadvantaged elderly, focussed this year on the impact of social media and technology vis-à-vis abuse of the elderly.
"Each year we try to get a better understanding of the existence of this heinous crime against our elderly and create awareness about the issue. Unfortunately, elder abuse starts at home and from whom they trust the most …This year we also looked into the impact of technology," said Mathew Cherian, chief executive officer, HelpAge India. "While technology in itself is good and progressive, it also has adverse impacts in the lives of our elderly."
The report was based on interviews with 5,014 elders across 23 states; 65% of the respondents complained that extreme attention given to smart phones and computers by the young was disrespectful to them. "Seventy-three percent elders felt that their adult children are too busy on the phone even when at home with them. Seventy-eight per cent elders agreed that social media had decreased their families personal time spent with them," the report said.
According to the report, the most common forms of abuse faced by the elderly were disrespect (56%), verbal abuse (49%), neglect (33%) , economic exploitation (22%) and physical abuse (12%). Nearly one-fourth of the elders interviewed for the report experienced abuse; the main perpetrators were sons (52%) and daughters-in-law (34%).
The government is doing something to tackle the neglect of senior citizens.
It proposes to amend the provisions of the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens (MWPSC) Act, 2007, possibly doing away with a ~10,000 cap on the maintenance allowance that is payable to senior citizens by their children or other caretakers, widening the definition of children to include biological children, adopted or step children, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law, grandchildren and even minors represented by their legal guardians.
Earlier, the term children included only sons and daughters and grandchildren, excluding minors.
To be sure, the use of technology and social media also has an upside. The report said that while only 4% if the respondents were internet users, 70% of them admitted that technology had improved their own knowledge about health issues, and enhanced their social skills.
"More than 65% of the elderly who are social media users, confirmed that social media has made their communication easier, their relationship with extended family members or relatives has increased, they understand the younger generation better and social media has helped in reducing harassment against elders," according to the report.
More than 90% of these elderly internet consumers use social media platforms such as Facebook (61%), WhatsApp (56%) and YouTube (40%) and more than a third spend time on platforms for entertainment, while the main purpose of their using social media is to connect with family and friends.
Samir Parikh, a psychiatrist and director of the department of mental health and behavioural sciences at Fortis Healthcare, said the elderly complaining of neglect or not receiving adequate attention from the young is not a new phenomenon.
"While technology and social media sometimes impact relations, even between spouses, parents and their children, the feeling of neglect gets exaggerated in the elderly. But it is also social media that helps them stay connected with their families. We need to empathically recognise and respond effectively," he said.