Empty-nesters en­ter the smart age with smarter de­vices

China Daily (USA) - - BUSINESS - By HANQIAO from China Fea­tures

Every time Ai Yuanxi switches on the TV, the first pic­tures she sees are those from her son. He lives in Ber­lin and sends pic­tures of Ai’s 16-month-old grand­son to her TV every day.

“It’s amaz­ing that you can re­ceive pic­tures on TV,” says the 65-year-old grand­mother, who lives in Hangzhou, Zhe­jiang prov­ince. “It’s handy and the pic­tures are much larger than those on cell phones or com­puter screens. It’s like my grand­son is right in front of me.”

Ai’s TVhas a set-up box spe­cially de­signed for the el­derly. The TV has some com­puter func­tions, but the re­mote con­trol pad­makes it much eas­ier to use. More im­por­tantly, she won’t suf­fer from neck pain or strain her eyes even if she spends hours in front of the TV. As China’s pop­u­la­tion ages, some in­ter­net-based prod­ucts are be­com­ing eas­ier to use for the el­derly who are less fa­mil­iar with the tech­nol­ogy. Th­ese smart prod­ucts can help par­ents and their chil­dren main­tain a com­fort­able dis­tance, while con­tin­u­ing their close bond with­out get­ting in­volved in each other’s life too much.

China has the largest pop­u­la­tion of se­nior cit­i­zens in the world. By the end of last year, it had 222 mil­lion peo­ple aged 60 or above, ac­count­ing for 16.1 per­cent of the to­tal pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to the Min­istry of Civil Af­fairs.

The num­ber of “empty-nesters”, par­ents whose grown-up chil­dren work and live in other Chi­nese cities or abroad, is rapidly grow­ing. Con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief that this phe­nom­e­non is more or less lim­ited to smaller cities, the prob­lem is no less se­ri­ous in big cities. In fact, it is even more com­pli­cated, par­tic­u­larly among fam­i­lies with well-ed­u­cated chil­dren who are set­tled or work­ing abroad.

Jiang Feng, founder of Ju­dou Tech­nol­ogy Com­pany, says the buy­ers and users of the Ju­douTVbox are dif­fer­ent. Buy­ers are mostly in their 30s while the users are their par­ents who are in their 60s. “Many chil­dren feel sad when they have to leave their par­ents. The de­vice of­fers away to stay con­nected,” Jiang says.

The box en­ables a per­son to down­load a film from the in­ter­net di­rectly to their par­ents’ TV, which might be thou­sands of kilo­me­ters away. It also makes it pos­si­ble for par­ents to video chat. Par­ents can video chat with their chil­dren’s fam­i­lies on TV while the chil­dren can an­swer video calls on their cell phones any time.

Jiang says se­nior cit­i­zens, just like young peo­ple, are cu­ri­ous about new tech­nol­ogy but are in­ti­mated by the fear of fail­ing to use it. “So when de­sign­ing prod­ucts for them, my guid­ing prin­ci­ple is mak­ing them easy to use.”

Liu Bei (alias), 77, won’t let her hus­band take a walk by him­self if he doesn’t wear a watch which can also be used as a cell phone — with a but­ton for emer­gency calls— and a GPS. Her 87-year-old hus­band, who has shown early signs of Alzheimer’s, fell down one day while tak­ing a walk. He pressed the emer­gency but­ton, send­ing an in­stant alert to the cell phones of Liu, and their son and daugh­ter-in-law. Liu rushed down­stairs and found him us­ing the GPS tracker.

Her hus­band also has a num­ber of chronic con­di­tions. He needs to take tablets twice a day for hy­per­ten­sion and suf­fers from an ir­reg­u­lar heart­beat. But when his heart­beat ac­cel­er­ates, he can­not take the tablets.

The gov­ern­ment has an­nounced poli­cies to en­cour­age the de­vel­op­ment of smart prod­ucts to help ad­dress the chal­lenges of an ag­ing so­ci­ety. Du Peng, pro­fes­sor of ag­ing stud­ies at Ren­min Uni­ver­sity of China, says smart de­vices help the el­derly through daily life, but the sup­ply of prod­ucts is in­suf­fi­cient and­many are too com­pli­cated for se­nior cit­i­zens.

The next stage of de­vel­op­ment, says Du, should see smart de­vices con­nected to lo­cal med­i­cal and other ser­vices for the el­derly. In a med­i­cal emer­gency, nearby med­i­cal cen­ters could be in­formed im­me­di­ately, speed­ing up the process of help.

Ai Yuanxi oc­ca­sion­ally trav­els abroad. She has vis­ited her son in Europe, and has been to Egypt and the Repub­lic of Korea. She stores her pho­tos on a Ju­dou box. She of­ten rolls the pic­tures, re­call­ing fond mem­o­ries, on the TV screen ac­com­pa­nied by mu­sic. “It makes me feel very happy,” she says.

“In­no­va­tion in smart tech­nol­ogy helps the el­derly live more in­ter­est­ing and dig­ni­fied lives,” Du says, which truly is in­valu­able for our se­nior cit­i­zens.

LIU CHENXI / CHINA DAILY

The num­ber of peo­ple aged 60 or above in China by the end of 2015. That ac­counts for 16.1 per­cent of its to­tal pop­u­la­tion, and China is be­com­ing an ag­ing so­ci­ety.

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