Technologies that are both beneficial and threatening for seniors

Ugo Giguere, The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — New technologies exist to simplify daily life, meet needs, create new opportunities, but they often hide a dark side. This duality between benevolence and malevolence will be at the heart of the work of the new holder of the Research Chair in Elder Abuse at the Université de Sherbrooke, Professor Mélanie Couture.

If, on the one hand, technologies can make life easier for the aging population by allowing access to various services remotely or simply by improving the organization of the home, they also give malicious people tools to control, monitor or defraud vulnerable people.

We need only think of love fraud, where a person pretends to have a virtual relationship in order to financially exploit another person. Or even phishing fraud, where a person can have their personal information, or even their identity, stolen.

Moreover, the mere fact of having access to a computer or a smart phone is not always easy. In a society where you have to have a smart phone to buy an electronic ticket to attend a show or have an email address to make a reservation at a restaurant, marginalization awaits people who do not have access to it. For part of the elderly population, which relies on fixed retirement incomes, purchasing power is only eroding.

The areas of research concerning seniors and technologies are numerous and diversified, emphasizes Professor Couture. “Of course you can abuse people using technology, but you can also identify abuse from technology,” she observes. Also, how to use technology properly while respecting the rights of seniors? You have to empower people to use the technology and make it accessible.”

The Université de Sherbrooke even contributes to the development of technologies to promote home care, but there again, obstacles must be avoided. “There is always the privacy and informed decision-making side that goes into it. We have to put processes in place to ensure that things are done well,” recognizes the specialist in the social aspects of aging.

Another aspect of mistreatment, ageism sometimes deprives older people of tools that could be appropriate for them.

“Because of a certain stigma, sometimes we don’t even offer the available technology to seniors, assuming that they won’t know how to use it,” laments the researcher. Structures need to be put in place to provide access to technology.”

This aspect opens the door to a completely different path, which is that of the heterogeneity of old age. For Mélanie Couture, there is not just one senior, there are several. « Basically, they’re older adults, that’s all, » she says.

If the Fédération de l’âge d’or du Québec opens its doors to people aged 50 and over, the government gives access to old age security income from the age of 65 and some studies target the average age of 72 to designate a senior.

“There is an evolution in perception, but there is an evolution in health too. In the research community, we also have debates. Do we start our research at 50-60-65 years old?” she wonders.

For Professor Couture, the important thing is above all not to systematically associate advanced age with a state of vulnerability.

This vast field of study will be stirred up by Professor Mélanie Couture and her team over the next few years. In addition to announcing the appointment of the new holder of the Research Chair in Elder Abuse, the Université de Sherbrooke confirmed the renewal of $1.5 million in funding from the Government of Quebec for the continuation of the work .

This is a third mandate that extends until 2027. Professor Couture also wanted to pay tribute to the work done by her colleague, professor-researcher Marie Beaulieu, who has held the reins of the chair since its beginnings in 2010. The latter should also continue to contribute to research.

Alongside the chair, Professor Couture will also have the mandate to co-direct the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on age-friendly communities and the fight against elder abuse.

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