Helen Martin: Doing a number on the elderly

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MY expertise when it comes to IT is based strictly on a need-to-know basis. I was once told that most people use about two per cent of the capacity of the basic Microsoft Word programme (or should that be program?).

That’s more than enough for me. Yes, I have an iPhone, but use it only for calls, texts and brief e-mails. I have an iPad, a Kindle e-reader (all accompanied by a range of chargers), a home PC, an office PC, about four e-mail addresses, each of which requires passwords, PIN numbers or the equivalent with varying security questions, the answers to which I must remember or I could be “locked out”.

Then there are certain websites I use for work which have ID and passwords attached, plus the same for even the most minimal interaction I have with social networking.

I have a TV package and that also has a PIN number. Then there are the bank and credit cards, again all with their own PINs, not to mention my mother’s bank cards whose PIN numbers I must remember as her Power of Attorney.

What, though, will happen when my generation, and subsequent ones, become old and forgetful?

Last week, Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Jim Hume said he wanted more focus on dementia care, with 90 per cent of residents in care homes suffering from the condition, and the number expected to double by 2031.

It might as well quadruple because we are creating a digital world in which even early dementia symptoms will mean old people can’t cope with the technological demands of everyday living, let alone adapt to “next generation” changes and upgrades which happen rapidly from one year to the next.

One of the first things that “went” in my mother’s old age was her bank PIN number, the only PIN someone of her years had to remember.

My generation already has dozens, for gadgets that will initially keep us “independent” in the face of physical frailty – ordering online groceries, a TV package we can use to pay for films to be “piped” in, an e-reader for books, Skype to keep in touch with our children, and online banking. But one by one, the codes will jumble and slip away, leaving us helpless, and all because as we get older we can’t keep up and remember the damn numbers, passwords, icons and key pad options.

Just when we are trying to keep the growing numbers of elderly able to live independently because we can’t afford to pay for their residential care, the digital age makes it more and more difficult for them to do so.

Progress is good. The future is digital. But unless we act urgently to save some of the old, simple ways such as cheque books, bank branches and post offices within walking frame distance, friendly local shops and real people to help on the other end of counters and phone lines, it could also prove to be a cripplingly expensive and unnecessarily cruel future.

Time is running out – most of those safety nets have already disappeared.

Credit us with some sense

RBS wants to pay staff bonuses worth twice their salaries and the new Bank of England governor Mark Carney, below, appears to agree, saying capping bankers’ bonuses is “a crude measure that will fail” because they will just up basic pay to keep hold of prized staff. There lies the problem.

Banks don’t accept their responsibility for anything, their failures or their culpability. They really do believe an employee can be worth a £1 million salary and a £2m bonus, even though his company makes a loss.

Please, Mr Salmond, if we do get a “new” Scotland, can you start by helping credit unions expand across the country so that we have an alternative to dealing with these slime balls? (With apologies to front line bank staff who probably hate their high-flying executives as much as we do.)

Bin the political flyers first, Mike

HOORAH for Mike Crockart, local Lib Dem MP, trying to crack down on nuisance calls and texts. Even better if he can include the propaganda junk mail and newsletters from political parties that regularly plop through my letter box.

Give families a welcome break

THE English law which saw a Telford couple fined £1000 for taking their children out of school to go on holiday is one UK piece of legislation we don’t want here.

It was the family’s first holiday together in five years and that gets them off the hook in my book..

I once delayed the Young Master’s return to school in January for ten days. Had it been Benidorm I wouldn’t have dreamed of asking. But it was South Africa which apart from being a beautiful country, is extremely educational on so many levels. I also happened to be recovering from breast cancer at the time.

Holidays in term time are a matter of common sense to be agreed between the school and the parents. Ultimately, if parents abuse the system it’s their child who will flunk their exams.

But let’s not forget, that occasionally other things are more important than school.