Advancing the Silver Economy

By Daniel Rahman

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*Picture Credits: Idealist Careers

I HAD a conversation with my mum recently over an elderly friend, technology, and getting on with life in this hyperconnected world.

“Your Uncle E has a sensitive stomach,” said mum. “So, whenever convenient, we try to send him food … but his home is in the other side of the city”.

Mum and Uncle E are former work colleagues and have been friends for over 30 years. A soft spoken and kind man, Uncle E who turns 80 this year, lives alone.

He is highly independent but has never driven, preferring to takes cabs or the train, and thankfully, has supportive friends who drive him around.

“Is it not expensive with delivery charges?” mum responded.

Having done a rough calculation of the cooking (raw materials, api etc.) and transportation costs for the 54km round trip, it would come up to about the same as the services – the latter with more options.

Mum said it sounded difficult. “Leceh lah”.

“You haven’t even tried,” I responded as I took mum’s phone and installed the Grab Food app. While showing her step-by-step how to use it (including pre-loading RM100 credit into the e-wallet), many questions came up including, “e-Wallet reliable, ah?” “Will they deliver on time so that Uncle E doesn’t have to wait at the gate?”

I answered in the affirmative.

“Safe ah?” she asked, concerned about her friend. I assured her that my experiences have been positive. The rating feature acts as a check and balance and usually the deliverers hand over the food and then proceed to their next delivery.

“Please, only if no frills, no fuss … just how we older people like it,” mum responded.

I smiled.


Of technology and the elderly

Mum isn’t that old.

For the record, she’s 65 this week (April 23, Happy Birthday, mum!). Usually she’s quite the savvy technology operator – googling, WhatsApping, Facebooking, Instagramming etc – but now says she feels “over-connected, heading for digital dementia”.

Mum’s always had an eager-to-learn attitude and enjoyed trying out new things. She is from the Cobalt, Gopher, Prodigy, Veronica era and Windows was an eye-opener with Netscape Navigator and Explorer.

She was first in our family (and her office) to get an email account in 1994 with our local Jaring, which needed that hook-up to an external modem. She actually studied computer-assisted journalism and went on to pioneer DTP or desktop publishing (Quark X-press/ Adobe PageMaker) in newspaper production.

Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but feel that with technology moving at such a fast pace, things have gotten overwhelming.

And if she, my Warga Emas mother, with that go-getter attitude can feel that way, what about others of her generation?

While many technological applications are doing their best to be user friendly, for commercial reasons, they can get unwieldy: Pre-loaded e-wallets, shake-to-win-redemption coupons, location-based deals, Face ID, triple-authentication, etc.

There’s also a general trust deficit between the elderly and technology, for good reason.

Thus, it’s easy to want to shun these advancements and do things the “good ol’ (and simple) way”.

The silver economy

About two weeks ago, an opinion piece was published in The Star written by SY Lau of the Tencent group about why Malaysia must focus on building our economy based on digital competency.

I found myself agreeing with most of his points, from revamping the education system to “enculturing” an online lifestyle.

What I feel could be added is this: We should be preparing our society for the Silver Economy.

In gist, the silver economy refers to an economic ecosystem that centres on an ageing population (ages 60 and above). Sometimes known as the Seniors Market or the Greying Economy, it encompasses everything from home accommodation, food, insurance and healthcare to communications, sports and tourism.

A closely related term is “Gerontechnology”, referring to an interdisciplinary field of scientific research in which technology is directed towards the aspirations of and opportunities for older persons.

From simple “larger font” options in smartphones to voice-enabled Amazon Echos, to wearable healthcare monitoring and tracking devices, technologies applicable to the silver economy are already upon us.

Rendever, a technology company whose goal is to reduce depression among senior citizens, uses Virtual Reality together with therapy to enable them to relive and revisit places they’ve been to before – a stroll down their neighbourhood roads or a visit to Paris, for instance.

Upcoming autonomous cars also present a mobility option for many elderly citizens.

The silver economy: by the numbers

Malaysia’s ageing population is growing at a rate of 2.4% annually. As of 2018, approximately 6.5% of the population (about 2.10 million) was aged 65 or above. By 2040, there’ll be more than six million.

According to the World Health Organisation, when this reaches 7%, Malaysia will be deemed a nation with an “ageing population”.

Worldwide, according to Global Ageing Times, between 2015 and 2030, the number of people aged 60 years or older is projected to grow by 56%, from 901 million to 1.4 billion, reaching 2.1 billion by 2050.

In Europe, according to a recent European Commission study, the silver economy’s baseline value was estimated at €3.7 trillion (2015) and has the potential to expand by approximately 5% annually up to 2025, to €5.7 trillion.

Interestingly, the European silver economy is forecasted to contribute €6.4 trillion and create 88 million jobs by 2025.

(Note: €1 = RM4.62).

Preparing for a silver economy

For Malaysia, this also presents an opportunity to plan ahead as our population ages.

A Bahasa Melayu speaking Siri would be nice to keep our old folk company, for instance.

And, while we embrace technology, we should also think about the human applications that will be required – better nursing, better town and country planning, and better support services.

We need a society that is able to simplify technological while empowering humanity.

In Malaysia, we could call it Ekonomi Warga Emas (how’s that sound as a step up?).

One thing for sure technology cannot replace is the face-to-face aspect. As human beings, it’s part of who we are.

Mum doesn’t drive much now (The traffic! Roadworks!) but she is thankful that free landline calls connect her to elderly friends like Uncle E, with whom she speaks almost every day.

Oh, and about the Grab Food experiment — it worked but has been placed on the “use only when absolutely necessary” standby plan after three efforts. Mum and Uncle E feel that the “food tends to be too oily”.

“Kurang minyak (less oil) isn’t a request the restaurants are used to”. An ekonomi warga emas opportunity, perhaps?

*This article was written by Daniel Rahman and has been published in The Star Newspaper

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