University of Bremen: Digital participation of older people: need for support higher than expected

When it comes to supporting older people in digitization, politics, administration and social organizations have so far concentrated on promoting places of learning and experience. Senior citizens learn here with the help of predominantly voluntary digital guides, Internet ambassadors or other support staff. How do you communicate with a smartphone or tablet? How do you search for information? How do you order something online?

Previous offers are not enough
A Bremen study has now examined for the first time whether the offers offered so far actually meet the needs and whether all older people can really participate digitally. “Our wide-ranging study clearly shows that these offers are not sufficient because they only reach some older people,” says Professor Herbert Kubicek, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Information Management Bremen (ifib) at the University of Bremen.

The computer science professor led the study, which is based on the largest sample to date for the age group 60 and over. “Until now, it was thought that sufficient, easily accessible, low-threshold learning and experience opportunities would have to be created – then the older ‘offliners’ without digital experience would come, learn digital skills and use the online opportunities in the future. The data from the survey shows that this is not enough!”

Thousands of offliners in Bremen and Bremerhaven
A total of 11,331 men and women responded to the comprehensive survey. Of these, 17.9 percent in the city of Bremen and 22.3 percent in Bremerhaven have never been on the Internet. “Extrapolated to the older population, this means that there are at least 27,700 offliners in Bremen and at least 7,300 in Bremerhaven,” says Kubicek. The rate increases with age: “In the 85-89 age group, well over half already have no online experience whatsoever.” One third of these are men and two thirds are women.

According to nationwide surveys, it is above all the level of education that influences the Internet use of older people – “the more educated, the more the places of learning and experience created so far are used,” says Herbert Kubicek. “However, we specifically asked about other factors that make it difficult to acquire digital skills over the long term through places to learn and experience.” housing situation have a demonstrable influence on internet use. Large differences were also found between the districts: the offliner rate varies in Bremen between 7 and 27 percent, in Bremerhaven between 15 and 28 percent.

How do you reach the disinterested, skeptics and deniers?
But what can be done to reduce the offline rate? According to Kubicek, one important result is that “more places to learn and experience are not enough.” The majority of offliners state that they see no benefit for themselves. It therefore did not answer the question about different forms of support. Kubicek sees this as a challenge that has not yet been addressed: “These disinterested, skeptical and deniers have the greatest risk of falling behind if many services are only available online in the future. And we don’t have any tried and tested ways to convince them to examine their biases.”

Kubicek considers the realization that the need for support is not limited to the offliners to be even more important. Only around half of those who use the Internet at least “from time to time” state that they can do this independently without occasional help. This proportion drops to 44 percent in the 80-84 age group and to 25 percent from the age of 90 and over. “Between 30 and 50 percent of online users would like help setting up their device, using it, in connection with WLAN or passwords. If they don’t have relatives or neighbors to help them, they want different types of support depending on the issue. Between 10 and 20 percent would like home visits, 6 to 11 percent would like to call a hotline, and 6 to 9 percent would like to go to a consultation.”

“Politics are unaware of the extent and costs”
The computer science professor is certain that the politicians responsible “are not even remotely aware of the extent and costs of this challenge. There are full-bodied promises that nobody will be left behind in digitization. But we used the data to calculate the need expressed in the sample based on the total number of online users in Bremen. In two different scenarios, we come up with an annual need of 10,000 or 70,000 home visits, 6,600 to 69,000 calls to a hotline and 5,000 to 25,000 visits to consultation hours! Do politicians know what something like this costs and what organizational effort it requires?”

By the way, according to Kubicek’s assessment, Bremen and Bremerhaven are in the top group with corresponding opportunities nationwide. However, the offers from 30 facilities that exchange digital outpatient clinics in a network last year covered less than one percent of this need.

The study therefore also contains recommendations for these institutions as well as for politics and administration on how they can gradually expand the offers according to the situation. Kubicek believes that structural adjustments in elderly care to further digitization are urgently needed. For example, the large number of home visits required cannot be carried out solely with volunteers: “This work should be integrated into outpatient care and outreach care for the elderly.”

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