Digital Participation in Older Age: Support Demand Higher than Expected

Many older people need help with the accelerated world of digitalization. A study carried out by the university’s Institute for Information Management Bremen (ifib) has investigated for the first time what support older “offliners” and also “onliners” need on a communal level.

When the topic is supporting older people with digitalization, politics, administration, and social societies mainly concentrate on the fostering of learning and experience facilities. There, senior citizens learn with the help of mainly volunteer digital guides, internet ambassadors, or support staff. How can one communicate with a smartphone or tablet? How is it possible to search for information? How can I order something on the internet?

Services Offered To Date Are Insufficient

For the first time, a Bremen study has investigated whether the services offered to date actually correlate with the needs and if all older people can participate in the digital world in this way. “Our broad assessment clearly shows that the said services do not suffice as they only reach some of the senior citizens,” says Professor Herbert Kubicek, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Information Management Bremen (ifib), University of Bremen. 

The computer science professor is leading the study, which is based on the largest sample of the over 60 age group taken to date. “Until now, it was thought that only enough, easily reachable, low threshold learning and experience opportunities needed to be created - then the older ‘offliners’ without any digital experience would come, attain digital skills, and use online services in the future. The data from the survey has shown that that is shortsighted!”

Thousands of “Offliners” in Bremen and Bremerhaven

In the comprehensive study, a total of 11,331 men and women took part. 17.9 percent of them in Bremen City and 22.3 percent in Bremerhaven have never been on the internet. “When you project that on the population of older citizens, this means that there are at least “27,700 ‘offliners’ in Bremen and 7,300 in Bremerhaven,” states Kubicek. The proportion increases with an increase in age: “In the 85-89 age group, far more than half of the people have absolutely no experience with being online.” Of those people, a third are men and two thirds are women.

According to national surveys, it is especially the level of education that influences the internet use of older people - “the more educated they are, the more they use the learning and experience facilities that have been created,” explains Herbert Kubicek. “However, we specifically asked questions pertaining to other factors that make the long-term acquisition of digital competencies via learning and experience facilities more difficult.” This showed that memory performance, mobility, health status based on care grade, the claiming of social benefits, and living situation have a proven effect on internet usage. Large differences between the districts were also ascertained. The “offliner” ratio in Bremen varies between 7 and 27 percent, in Bremerhaven it lies between 15 and 28 percent.

How Do You Engage the Disinterested, Skeptics, and Resisters?

But what can be done to reduce the number of “offliners”? “It is not enough to simply increase the number of learning and experience facilities,” is one of the important results according to Kubicek. The majority of “offliners” stated that they see no purpose for them. Thus, they did not answer the questions concerning different types of support. Kubicek believes this to be a challenge that has not been addressed to date: “The disinterested, skeptics, and resisters are at the greatest risk of losing touch if many services are only available online in the future. And we have no tested way of convincing them to assess their preconceptions.”

Kubicek believes the result that support needs are not only restricted to “offliners” is even more important. Only around half of those who use the internet “now and then” stated that they were able to do this autonomously and without occasional help. This number sinks to 44 percent in the 80-84 age group and to 25 percent in the over 90 age group. “Between 30 and 50 percent of the “onliners” would like support in setting up their device, in controlling it, and in matters related to WIFI and passwords. If they have no relative or neighbor who can help, they desire different types of support depending on the topic. Between 10 and 20 percent would prefer house visits, 6 to 11 percent would like to be able to ring a telephone hotline, and 6 to 9 percent would like to go to open office hours.”

“Politicians Not Aware of Extent and Costs”

The computer science professor is sure that the responsible politicians “are not in any way aware of the extent and costs of this challenge.” It is always promised that no one will be left behind in digitalization. But based on the needs stated in the data from the sample, we calculated the whole number of “onliners” in Bremen. In two different scenarios, we get a yearly need of 10,000 or 70,000 house visits, 6,600 to 69,000 calls to a hotline, and 5,000 to 25,000 office hour visits! Do the politicians know what that would cost and what organizational work would be needed?”

According to Kubicek’s assessment, Bremen and Bremerhaven are nationally in the top group with their services offered. However, the services of 30 facilities that communicate within a network of digital clinics only covered less than one percent of what is needed last year. 

Thus, the study also contains recommendations for said facilities, politicians, and administrations, and explains how they can expand their services in accordance with the situation. Kubicek believes structural amendments in the care of older persons to fit with digitalization are needed. The large number of required house visits cannot be carried out by volunteers alone: “This work should be integrated into ambulatory care and outreach initiatives in aged person’s care.”

Background Information on the Study

The “Internet Use of Aged Persons in Bremen and Bremerhaven. Results and Conclusions from a Citizen Survey in 2021" (“Internetnutzung älterer Menschen in Bremen und Bremerhaven. Ergebnisse und Schlussfolgerungen einer Bevölkerungsumfrage 2021”) study was initiated by the Bremen State Senator for Welfare, Youth, Integration, and Sport and Bremerhaven Municipal Authorities in the frame of accompanying research to the “Netzwerk Digitalambulanzen Bremen und Bremerhaven” project. The Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community is funding the project as open government labor. Professor Herbert Kubicek, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Information Management Bremen (ifib), an associated institute of the University of Bremen, is project leader. He is also the author of the report. The survey was carried out by Statistischen Landesamt Bremen. In said survey, people over 60 years of age were randomly chosen from the civil registers in Bremen (30,000) and Bremerhaven (10,000). 11,331 people (28 percent) took part in the survey. 

You can download and read the whole report as a PDF file (in German) here:

The 11,331 datasets are also available for secondary analysis there.


Further Information:



Prof. Dr. Herbert Kubicek
Senior Researcher
Institute for Information Management Bremen (ifib)
Phone: + 49 421 218-56575
Email: kubicekprotect me ?!ifibprotect me ?!.de

Senioren mit Handy
Digital participation in older age. Volunteers alone cannot support this age group in digitalization. In the future, ambulatory care and outreach initiatives in aged person’s care should take on these tasks.