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As digitalisation gathers pace, are older people being left behind?

Society must play a bigger role in assisting older people to keep abreast of IT developments and ensure they are digitally savvy

An older person at a telecoms office - FILE PHOTO

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Digitalisation embraces a system and process to be operated with the use of computers and the internet.

It enables companies to market their products online without a physical presence.

Today, we live in a technology-centric world which incorporates digitalisation, whenever it is workable. The rationale is simple – it facilitates speediness and boosts competence. A single person may be able to do more work than five employees at a conventional workplace.

But how does digitalisation affect certain segments of society, particularly older people? Many of them are not computer or internet-savvy or they may even be computer illiterate.

The use of IT among older people increased during the lockdowns. Many had to turn to digital technology to connect socially, access information instantly and perform everyday tasks.

As the number of older people rises, they will have to adopt and be adept at using computers and the internet. This can have both positive and negative impacts for them.

Positives impacts

  • Communicating with family members and friends – A recurring concern among older people is isolation. Social media platforms, such as Facebook, WhatsApp and email, allow them to communicate with family and friends. Some of them have even been able to reconnect with long-lost family members or friends through social media
  • The internet enables older adults to conduct their own research on health concerns or any other issue, without having to leave their homes. Internet search activity has also been shown to improve brain activity and function
  • Older people living alone can, with a push of a button, alert a caregiver or family member if they stop moving around the house. This increases their personal safety
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Negative impacts

  • Distraction happens at any age, but the impact is more pronounced among older people, as it may restrict the brain’s intellectual capability and erode memory
  • Older people may be more vulnerable to fraud and risk having their personal data stolen. If not monitored, their accounts could be hacked
  • IT developments have, in the main, failed to address the weakening of faculties with age. Increasing user friendliness with larger font sizes, bigger buttons and brighter displays poses a challenge, which should be addressed.

Ensuring digital inclusion for older adults means overcoming five key barriers: access, installation, knowledge, design and trust. Providing high-speed, low-cost internet and devices, along with installation and support, is key to improving connectedness.

Older people need digital literacy programmes. They need to be kept updated on information about relevant technology. Perhaps mobile phone companies could also provide special rates for older people.

Digital banking

Digital banking is now increasingly emphasised in Malaysia and will eventually become a part of our banking life. 

Digital banking is the digitalisation of most aspects of a bank’s operations: from the front end to the back end. It covers most of the services a bank offers except that everything is now in a virtual environment – the access, process and experience are abridged.

Banks need to ensure that staff are assigned to assist older people once digital banking is fully implemented.


Digitalisation is one of the most powerful drivers and potential enablers in various spheres of our daily lives.

The lockdowns we experienced served as an invaluable lesson and opened our eyes to how important digitalisation is.

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Access to digitalisation at home is important these days for older people. Many government agencies like Kuala Lumpur City Hall and the land office are no longer sending their payment notices through the post.

The onus now is on the people to access their bills online and make payments online. Many people, including older adults, have not yet come to grips with this. Older people who are aware of this new procedure may not have a computer or they may not have internet connectivity.

Staff at government agencies often tell older people to ask their children for help in accessing digital services. But what if their children are not with them or if they live overseas? What if they don’t have children?

These agencies should provide step-by-step guides with illustrated notes on how to access their portals and make payments.

The government has to ensure that older people are prepared for digitalisation.

Digital literacy

The government and NGOs should organise digital literacy courses that target older people especially. Such courses will help ensure that older people are not left behind in the digital era.

Many older adults have kept up with digitalisation through their own initiative, but others need to be educated as well.

Older people should never be neglected, as they are an important segment of society. Having more digitally savvy older adults could have economic spin-offs as well. .

Society must play a bigger role in assisting older people to keep abreast of IT developments and ensure they are digitally savvy. Government departments need to open up special counters to assist older people. Banks should also have a designated desk officer to assist them.

READ MORE:  Why are so many older adults in Malaysia unhappy?

The Alliance for a Safe Community (Ikatan) chairman Lee Lam Thye feels that “in our community-centric society, we can also lean on the ‘it takes a village’ philosophy.

“Neighbours, educators and friends should be encouraged to look out for one another, offering support or assistance when they notice someone struggling to manage their responsibilities,” he said.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. He covered all five Nordic countries in the course of his work. A pragmatic optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its people with the same benefits found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one he hopes will be realised in his lifetime
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Peter Perreau
Peter Perreau
9 Mar 2024 2.25pm

Good reading Ben. Thanks for the link.

27 Feb 2024 8.03pm

Tis is true! I’m sure there r lots of seniors, who r IT illiterate!Pls allow,personal visits,n,one to one,
Discussions or applications!

26 Feb 2024 7.44pm

Thank you so much for highlighting the difficulties senior citizens can face having to go online to do necessary tasks. From my own experience, online banking has been such a hassle due to the tightening up of e-banking security which older people are not familiar with. I’ve been locked out of my own bank account by having touched the wrong number or alphabet on my smart phone as I’m unable to see what I’m typing into the password box or can’t correct it if I realize it given only 3 chances to get it right. It would be helpful if older folk were allowed the alternative of doing things manually as in the good old days of hard copy bills etc. This would mean extra work for the younger generation of employees and less frustration for seniors.

Ruku Mani
Ruku Mani
25 Feb 2024 8.48am

Thank you for highlighting the issue Mr. Lopez. Agree with you that the older segment of our population are becoming marginalized with the increasing digitization of the economy and services. Just owning a digital device like a smart/android phone does not mean they are using it smartly. Many I know, use it like a normal phone, a message device and mini cinema, not for online banking/payments, purchases, access to federal/council services or even researching online. They still need a physical service counter to help them access the services needed.

Look at the registration for PADU. Only 10% of the population registered online. I turned up at one of PADU’s mobile units and it was full with older folks requiring help.

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