Digital Literacy for Older Persons


On 29 October 2021, The Permanent Mission of Chile in its capacity of Presidency of the Group of Friends of Older Persons, UNESCO, WHO and ITU co-organized a virtual event titled “The Contribution of Digital Literacy for Older Persons to the Decade of Healthy Aging”.

The event was held as part of the annual Global Media and Information Literacy Week, which serves as a platform for progress review towards the achievement of “Media and Information Literacy for All”. The event brought together key stakeholders to explore two global trends that are bringing important socioeconomic changes worldwide: the emergence of digital technologies, and aging populations. It is critical to ensure the development of digitally inclusive communities that could contribute to the wellbeing of all in all stages of life. The event was set out to explore ways in which digital advancement can contribute to the implementation of the “Decade of Healthy Ageing (2021-2030)”.

On behalf of the Group of Friends of Older Persons, H. E. Ms. Cecilia Morél Montes, First Lady of Chile recalled that the accelerated digitalization, brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, amplified digital inequalities between generations. By 2050, the number of people aged 65 or older is expected to reach 1.5 billion. To avoid leaving older persons behind, H.E. Ms. Morél Montes pointed towards the framework of action provided by the Decade of Healthy Aging to improve the lives of older persons, their families, and communities. She emphasized the importance of raising awareness in the ITC sector so that it is well-prepared to respond to the needs of aging populations. Lastly, she underscored that we “must engage in every effort to empower older persons to be active contributors and beneficiaries of the digital transformation”.

H.E. Mr. Ishikane Kimihiro, Permanent Representative of Japan to the UN, recalled the recent facilitation of the resolution “Decade of Healthy Aging” by Chile and Japan, adopted by the UN General Assembly last year. He shared that in Japan, suicide and solitary death of the elderly are unfortunately on the rise, which is why a new cabinet was recently introduced to address the issue of loneliness and isolation. H.E. Mr. Kimihiro also underlined that the Universal Health Coverage is essential in order to create a society where the elderly are socially included, and the dignity of lives and livelihood is secured, especially since chronic loneliness can increase the risk of chronic diseases. “Fostering a sense of connection among elderly can lead to a sense of dignity and fulfillment in life, and thereby contribute to disease prevention”, he concluded.

Following the high-level opening segment, an interactive panel discussion was set out to explore how digital advancement can foster progress towards implementing the targets set in the Decade of Healthy Aging. Moderated by Mr. Werner Obermeyer, Director of the World Health Organization Office at the United Nations, the panel featured the participation of Ms. Roxana Widmer-Iliescu, Senior Coordinator for Digital Inclusion at International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Ms. Alana Officer, Unit Head, Demographic Change and Healthy Ageing at the WHO, Ms. Cathy Holloway, Professor of Interaction Design & Innovation at University College London’s Interaction Centre and a co-founder and Academic Director of the Global Disability Innovation Hub, Ms. Alison Bryant, Senior Vice President AARP Research and asks question Panelist from NGO Committee on Ageing, and Mr. Michael Hodin, CEO of the Global Coalition on Ageing. Panelists discussed the intersection of digital inclusion and aging from the perspective of their specific fields of work. 

In particular, Ms. Widmer-Iliescu presented ITU’s three main building blocks to achieve digital inclusion; access, affordability and ICT accessibility. Moreover, she stressed an important consideration; to make privacy and security awareness part of digital skills of the elderly. Ms. Officer highlighted four key action areas that are essential to the achievement of the targets of the Decade; tackling ageism, building communities that are more age-friendly, ensuring integrated care for older people, and providing long-term care to those who need it. She added that ICT designed with the needs of older people in mind can help foster cross-sectoral collaboration, amplify the voices of older people, and contribute to training and capacity building efforts.

Invited by UNESCO as a research partner, Ms. Holloway emphasized the need for careful consideration whether the technology is serving the needs of the community, in addition to making the tools accessible. She also touched on UNESCO’s efforts in fostering digital literacy, such as the foundation of the International Research Centre on Artificial Intelligence, which aims to use artificial intelligence to answer the world’s pressing problems. Ms. Bryant highlighted that the greatest concern of consumers is healthspan, and how social isolation can have severe health impacts. She also drew attention to systemic issues, such as the lack of telehealth funding prior to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr. Hodin emphasized a few angles from the perspective of the private sector, such as the importance of collaboration and co-design, as well as the fact that aging strategies using technology benefit societies, while also providing a positive development for the revenue streams of stakeholder companies.

As a co-sponsor of the resolution that proclaimed 2021-2030 the UN Decade of Health Aging, H.E. Mr. Andrejs Pildegovičs, Permanent Representative of Latvia to the United Nations, delivered brief concluding remarks at the event. He underscored that digital transformation, which was accelerated by the pandemic, brought numerous benefits while also highlighted digital divides. H.E. Mr. Pildegovičs shared his appreciation for panelists’ efforts to address this challenge through collaboration, as well as for their various key recommendations shared today. “Digital transformation must be human-centric and serve to improve the lives of all”, he concluded.