29. April , 2020

Grandma and Grandpa are now online The Corona crisis forces seniors to digitize. How is this possible?

An informative FALTER report on the digitization of the KWP (Kuratorium Wiener Pensionisten-Wohnhäuser) in times of the coronavirus

The report is the property of FALTERS – the weekly newspaper from Vienna and is freely available online via this link

Lisa Kreutzer — MEDIA, FALTER 17/20, 21.04.2020

The family follows the recommendations of the government. Because she does not want to do without contact, she has sought new ways of communication. Evelyne Glanzl has half-long brown hair and wears dark progressive glasses. The other day she used Facetime for the first time, then at Easter she used the first video conference with the whole family. These new digital possibilities are relieving, she says. “These are the silver linings of our quarantine.”

The analogue world can hardly be separated from the digital world. This is nothing new for most of society. Video conferencing has long been as much a part of everyday life for many people as the online processing of all payments. But the move to the digital world is not so easy for all parts of society. According to the Austrian Internet Monitor, only about half of the 60 to 70 year olds regularly used the Internet last year. Of the over-70s, only a quarter. If you don’t want to suffer from pathogenic loneliness in times of physical distance, if you don’t want to participate in the possibilities of social and economic life, you have to go online. How do those whose lives have been offline deal with this? And is the crisis also accelerating digitisation among senior citizens?

A webcam has recently been attached to Ms Glanzls stand PC. They had sent her her children the other day. The common Easter breakfast should take place with the whole family as video conference. Over the telephone her son had instructed her in the installation. In order to keep the family together virtually in the times of Corona, Glanzl was technically upgraded. Actually, she says, she was never talented in these things. “I grew up in a time when people weren’t so much into technology.” But since the crisis, children have been introducing their mothers to digital technology, the whole family explaining to her the functions of the devices, the apps she needs. “Reverse Parenting” is the name given to this role reversal between the generations.

“Digital skills are now indispensable for participation in social life, but many have no idea,” says Karin Niederhofer. She is 62 years old, has short blonde hair, large glasses. Niederhofer heads the senior citizens’ college in the second district, which offers computer, tablet and smartphone courses especially for senior citizens. She gives the interview via Skype, from her home office. 90 percent of her clientele is female, between 65 and 95 years of age.

What difficulties do your course participants encounter when they want to be digitised? “There is a certain sense of authority among the older generations,” says Niederhofer. For example, the ability to differentiate between correct and incorrect messages suffers from this. Senior citizens who learn how to use the Internet in self-study are at risk of being unable to classify false reports, spam or offers. “If the device says it, then it must be true.” That is why the topic of safety is a burning issue in their courses, says Niederhofer. How do I recognize false positives and secure WLAN connections? Together they practice the use of mobile phones in the courses and discuss how to protect themselves against phishing mails or spam. They often choose a smartphone together afterwards. A device that is not individually adapted is just as unpleasant for their customers as a tight shoe, says Niederhofer.

Since the beginning of the corona crisis, the number of participants in their online seminars has tripled, says Niederhofer. Vienna’s adult education centres have also shown increased interest in digitisation services. Inevitably, many senior citizens now have to deal with digital means if they want to master their everyday life. Be it a doctor’s prescription that is now sent by e-mail, administrative procedures via e-signature, online banking or even a conversation with the family, which is no longer possible without video. The biggest challenge is that especially those non-digitised groups now need to be digitally trained, says VHS managing director Herbert Schweiger.

Niederhofer sees this situation as an opportunity for the digitisation of older vintages. If the necessary hardware is not available, Niederhofer’s son Alexander helps out. With his company Helferline, he has come up with something he calls “corona tablets” during the crisis. You send disinfected devices home, the numbers of the family already saved on speed dial, the desired apps pre-installed.

Even on the ward on the sixth floor of a Viennese penionist apartment building, contact with the outside world in times of the corona crisis comes in the form of a tray. To Adolfine Schiedek’s room usually at 3:15 pm. A nurse holds the tablet in front of her face, positions it so that her white hair frames the picture like a portrait. On the other side of the line is her son-in-law sitting in his study. Ludwig Kaspar is 76 years old, with the headset on his ears he speaks into the tablet on his desk “Do you recognize me?” Not every time he gets lucky with the question. Not every time the 97-year-old knows who he is, she is seriously ill with dementia. This time Frau Schiedek smiles. She taps the nurse, points to the screen. “Look it’s Ludwig.”

Since the Corona crisis, there has been an absolute ban on visiting retirement homes and nursing homes. The residents are not allowed to leave the house. Shopping and visits outside the area are not possible, the event rooms remain empty. We eat alone, in our own apartments or rooms. The people who live here have not been socialised with the digital possibilities and are particularly hard hit by the current analogue restrictions.

Around 16 percent of Austrians do not use the Internet, according to surveys by the Austrian Internet Monitor 2019. They are the so-called offliners. Frau Schiedek is one of them. Who has Internet access in Austria is also a question of education. Almost all over-50s with a university degree have Internet access, but only 64 percent with a compulsory degree. As medical director of the online platform Netdoktor, Kaspar is among the former. As medical director of the online platform Netdoktor, Kaspar is among the former.

Andreas Lingua helps with video calls. Grey beard, a friendly smile. He is a home helper in Haus Föhrenhof of the Board of Trustees of the Viennese Pensioners’ Residences. Haus Föhrenhof is located in a quiet residential street near the Lainzer Tiergarten. Together with its colleagues, Lingua is currently facing the challenge of protecting the residents from the virus while keeping their isolation as low as possible. In order to give the residents some contact with the outside world, a tray was purchased for each of the 30 houses of the curatorium. Also for the one where Frau Schiedek lives.

The 260 senior citizens in Haus Föhrenhof, where Lingua works, are between 54 and 102 years old. This heterogeneous composition is a challenge, says Lingua. For age is relative. “Here lives a 95-year-old woman who sends her grandchildren pictures via Whatsapp, and then again 70-year-olds who are not interested in technology or are cognitively impaired.” This bandwidth makes a joint introduction to the device impossible, says Lingua. What unites all residents, however, is that since the visitation bans, they are completely dependent on digital aids to see their relatives. But can they replace the physical contact that is now missing?

Not only do the video calls help Mrs. Schiedek, but the calls also relieve her son-in-law. “I can see in the short time whether she is scared, seems panicky, or whether she is doing well today,” says Kaspar. “That’s reassuring.”

Of course, video calls are no substitute for visits, but in the crisis they are the best way to reduce loneliness. Such a video call contributes to the daily structure, is activating, a moment of closeness in times of isolation, says Elisabeth Stögmann. She is a professor at the University Clinic for Neurology at MedUni Vienna. For cognitively healthy seniors, the interest in and occupation with digital technology is also well suited to prevent dementia.

Video Call with the family at the JAMES Station.

The use of digital media has also become a prerequisite for social participation for older people, according to a study published last year by the Ministry of Social Affairs. About five years ago, the Ministry of Transport presented the broadband offensive “2015-2020”. This explicitly included measures for the digital integration of senior citizens. Consultations for seniors and trainers, training materials and events on the topic are offered. But these initiatives do not come in time for everyone. And by no means everyone accepts the initiatives.

Frederike D. does not understand all the excitement. The 87-year-old lives in a small village in the Waldviertel with less than 1000 inhabitants. During the war, people were more worried, she says, the excitement about the virus was incomprehensible to them. The fact that their contacts are now limited is no reason to digitise. She was never interested in technology, says the former winemaker, and the restrictions do not change that. She never had Internet access, nor was it necessary. Lunch at the inn on Wednesday, breakfast at the coffee house on Saturday, one evening event per week. Her schedule was always full and dealing with digital was never on the agenda.

Education in old age differs in one essential point: the target group is far less willing to deal with subjectively perceived “nonsense”. So says a study by the Ministry of Social Affairs from 2014. Diplomas, certificates, formal confirmations – what often drives younger generations is no longer important in old age. “It must have an incentive why this is now better than the old,” says neurologist Stögmann.

According to Stögmann, it is often difficult to outdo the analogue, the familiar. Because the learning of content gets a little worse in the course of life. “You’re just not as fast anymore, you don’t learn as well, it’s harder.”

“One lesson from the crisis will be that ways must be found to train non-digitisation-affine groups, of which senior citizens make up a large part, in the use of new technologies,” says Schweiger from the Vienna VHS. If you want to be socially included in the 21st century, there is no way around digitisation.

For Evelyne Glanzl, the crisis was a catalyst. And she will not abandon the new technical possibilities. They are far too pleasant for that.

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