“We older adults are very scared. Suddenly you say ‘This is a death sentence’,” explains Ana Lobos. Like many older people all over the world, Ana, an 80-year-old Chilean, has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
Ageing during the pandemic can look and feel very different for older persons. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 mortality rates for those older than 80 are five times higher than the overall average. Additionally, 66 percent of people 70 and older have at least one preexisting condition that puts them at a higher risk when fighting the virus.
This health crisis has elements that can’t be treated by vaccines—it is also an emotional crisis.
Isolation among older adults, which has increased due to quarantines and mobility restrictions, is affecting their mental health. COVID-19 has changed their daily routines and diminished their quality of life, from loneliness, to lack of access to services, to its economic impact. Because health services are overwhelmed, they are also seeing a change in the care and support they receive.
TECHNOLOGY CAN'T REPLACE CONTACT, BUT IT BRINGS US CLOSER
“We have a WhatsApp group, and often someone asks for help and says ‘call this number’ or ‘do this’,” says Beatriz Ibarra. Beatriz, 57, is a fulltime caregiver for her 82-year-old father, who has Alzheimer’s. Mobile messaging apps have been an important method for caregivers to exchange knowledge and resources during the pandemic.
Our increasing dependence on technology can be a challenge, and older adults are perhaps the ones who need the most support to manage it. That's why the theme for this year’s International Day of Older Persons is “Digital Equity for All Ages.” Digitalization, regardless of age or where one lives, expands opportunities, benefitting individuals and society as a whole.
At UNDP, we are working with partners to reduce the barriers that make it harder for older peoples to participate, collaborate, or make their voices heard in society. This includes digital disconnection, especially during the pandemic.
We recently joined the Digital Public Goods Alliance (DGPA), a global initiative to accelerate the inclusive digital transformation.
Through an educational programme in India, we have helped more than 20,000 elderly people in the state of Odisha, including some with disabilities, to upgrade their digital literacy.
And thanks to the Con Vos network in Argentina, local shop owners help people do tasks online, like procedures with the municipal government. That way, they themselves become more digitally literate and earn extra income. This is a joint initiative with the UNDP Accelerator Labs and the Concepción Municipal Government.
IN CHILE, THEY ARE NOT ON "MUTE"
The pandemic has hit older people in Chile hard. Suicide rates among this segment of the population are the highest in the country. According to recent data, 35.3 percent of older adults are missing companionship, 50 percent feel isolated from others, and 25 percent do not have a support network.
Chile is expected to have the largest proportion of older persons of any Latin American nation by 2030, according ECLAC’s Population Division.
Between 2016 and 2020, the number of older adults in Chile with an internet connection nearly doubled, rising from 38% to 63%.
“We’ve had to get cozy [with technologies], which has had its benefits. I think the digital divide is shrinking,” says Soledad Carvacho, 70, director of Chile’s National Federation for the Rights of Older Persons.
Out of this came Project NODO, a network that uses information technology to improve the protection and social inclusion of older people. NODO has education platforms for citizens, thematic publications, online courses for caregivers, and a website that puts all the main social services in one place.
DIGITAL INNOVATION IN A PANDEMIC
In light of the first negative consequences of COVID-19, in May 2021 NODO redirected its initial efforts to strengthening and supporting the response of the Chilean government. The objective was to mitigate the pandemic’s effects on the elderly population.
The result was the NODO Emergency Platform, a new digital social service that links, refers, and manages requests from older persons and their families with an institutional support network across the country. The initiative has directly supported more than 46,000 people, reinforcing the value of partnerships as an essential element of social inclusion and using technologies as a key way to confront the challenges of this new landscape.
Joint SDG Fund* has selected NODO from among more than 100 international initiatives for its adaptation in times of pandemic.
BEYOND THE PANDEMIC: A PERMANENT DIGITAL SUPPORT NETWORK
“For me the important thing is to put the person at the centre [of social protection],” says Ignacio Arriagaga, 68.
The challenge of increasing inclusion and social protection for older persons requires an integrated response. The NODO Ecosystem includes three digital services: NODO 60+, a community app that connects older adults and their family members with public social services like subsidies; MecuidoTecuido, a digital community for caregivers that works as a support network for training and selfcare; and Siempreaprendiendo, which offers tools to train public and private institutions that work with and assist older persons.
Mafalda Galdames, 68, is a founding member and the Secretary General of the National Association of Rural and Indigenous Women (ANAMURI). She explains that the campesina women in her region previously did not know how to use technology, but now their meetings are virtual. “We’ve even done workshops, something that for us seemed like a distant, terrible thing,” she says.
TOWARD THE DECADE OF HEALTHY AGEING
COVID-19 has not changed the fact that ageing continues to be a significant issue that affects all countries. It reflects significant achievements in human development like medical breakthroughs.
The number of older persons in the world is expected to double over the next three decades, reaching 1.5 billion in 2050. Approximately 80 percent of them will live in low- and middle-income countries.
The UN has declared the Decade of Healthy Ageing (2021-2030) to boost efforts to improve older people’s lives, as well as the security of their families and communities. The NODO project shows that digital tools can help make it happen.
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The NODO Project is an initiative led by UNDP Chile in partnership with with the National Service for the Elderly (SENAMA) and whose design and implementation involve the Office of the Resident Coordinator, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO). The project is funded by the Joint SDG Fund.