Elderly 'should be embraced, not sidelined'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 May, 2012, 12:00am


Picture a user of a mobile gadget, and a young person usually springs to mind.

But the telecommunications industry should take advantage of the as yet uncultivated 'silver-haired market', the chief of a social enterprise that manages emergency call services for the elderly says.

'In the past, when we thought up a marketing strategy, we thought of young people,' said Irene Leung Shuk-yee, who left her job as a marketing executive in a telecommunications firm this year to become chief executive of the Senior Citizen Home Safety Association.

'Connectedness is something that elderly people also need. Staying connected gives them peace of mind.'

Despite the ageing population - more than one in six Hongkongers is 65 or above - local businesses had largely overlooked their needs, Leung said.

She said telecommunications companies should include them when they designed their products.

The association was the first group in Hong Kong to provide a 24-hour service that links users to a call centre via a push-button device. Since then it has developed products that can locate users by mobile GPS technology.

Leung said the 'silver-haired market' also demanded technology that suited its particular tastes and needs.

'Many are still very active. They are healthier, better-educated and more independent [than previous generations],' she said. 'They don't like to be called old. They are not weak and frail.'

Few products targeted this age group, Leung said. The association would be working with manufacturers and retailers to develop appliances that could improve their quality of life.

It may also work with fashion design schools to create products for this community, she said.

The association was partly born out of the tragic events in the early months of 1996, when more than 100 elderly people died at home because of a severe cold spell.

The group came up with a service that allowed participants to alert call-centre helpers about physical problems by pressing the button of a lightweight device they carried around with them.

Since then, it has developed other products and services aimed not just at saving the lives of the elderly but improving them as well.

The call service can now be incorporated into mobile phones, and users with depression can talk to counsellors.

'We want to help the elderly stay in the community instead of them having to live in care homes,' she said.

Next year, the group will organise school visits and cross-generational activities to counter age discrimination, Leung said.

'People in general associate old age with negative images,' she said. 'Some people call it the 'ageing population problem'. But is it necessarily a problem?'