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18.01.2021

Generation Silver Surfer - WiFi in residential and nursing homes

What are the opportunities for system integrators in this area

If we believe in current studies, older people are generally more relaxed about the pandemic than the younger generation. Nevertheless, the ban on visits to old people’s and nursing homes, which have now been in place for many months, as well as the rules on distance, have an effect on the psyche. Many senior citizens are pushed into isolation and loneliness, as they are categorized among the most vulnerable risk groups.
Corona is an issue that affects us all, regardless of young or old age, everyone has to adhere to the rules. It may sound absurd, but even distancing measures are something that people have in common - they are forced to reflect and strive about what connects them.

Where there is a desire to connect, there is an exchange.

In times of a pandemic in particular, mobile phones, tablets and laptops can demonstrate their strengths over conventional telephone connections. It is particularly important for older people to be able not only to hear but also to see each other. In the past year, a development was boosted that had been in motion for a long time, but really became unavoidable with this crisis.

Yet in Germany alone, there are 12 million people still offline, 95% of them are 50 years or older. It is important to involve these people and enable them to digital participation.

People who are denied access to the Internet cannot take advantage of the opportunities offered by digitization and lose opportunities to participate.

Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft der Senioren-Organisationen (BAGSO)

However, the hurdles are still high. The large number of different devices, application options and user interfaces causes confusion, and the news about cybercrime can be very unsettling. Hardly a week goes by without warnings about fake emails or fraudulent phishing calls in the media, on one or the other platform or even in your own online banking account.

Only very few of the current residents in senior living and care facilities have an idea about the meaning of cybercrime buzzwords, some of them do not really know what a browser actually is. Not only for the residents, but also for the staff in this area, digital skills hardly played a role just a few years earlier, neither in training nor in the job description or in job advertisements. Then there are the technical requirements. There is still a considerable lack of this in nursing and care facilities, as many senior citizens' associations warn. Digitization has only reached this sector at the administrative level.

Seniors of the future are online

Today the infrastructure for personal online access is without question one of the basic needs of social life, and compared to previous wired solutions, WiFi has clearly established itself as the standard, even in private households. In the retirement homes the clocks were running slower for a quite while. No wonder, until a while ago, older people hardly knew the new communication technologies from their active working or everyday life.

In the meantime, however, more and more residents do have a smartphone, and notebooks and tablets are also increasingly moving in. Driven by the desire for closeness despite the pandemic, the willingness to learn how video calls, web conferences and online chats work has also increased. So while grandchildren explain to their grandparents how to use emoticons or join a chat group, software developers strive for intuitive and easy-to-use user interfaces.

According to Statistics Austria, 96,500 people live in Austria's care facilities, and in Germany there are more than 12,500 inpatient care facilities. Few of them are equipped with comprehensive WiFi. In the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the Housing and Participation Act was changed in 2019 so that the technical prerequisites for the use of Internet access must be created, and so the expansion is progressing steadily. (More on this in our blogpost Internet for senior citizens guaranteed by law.)

Remove hurdles: digital participation for everyone

But simply providing Internet is not enough. Access to the WiFi must be simple and, above all, barrier-free. The first hurdles don't just stand in the way of online banking or downloading a meeting app, but rather when logging into the WiFi portal. In doing so, it is important to conserve human resources and not overwhelm already overburdened caregivers with additional tasks. We technicians in particular often hear the first question when parents or grandparents visit: "Can you help me with my cell phone?" "Why can't I get on the Internet?" or "I don't know the password anymore, what should I do?" It is similar to the staff in retirement homes, but they are not IT professionals. A big step has already been taken with a simple way of granting residents access to the Internet, which also takes the concerns of local system administrators seriously and is transparent to them.

The technical education of citizens from a certain age increases with every year. The term Silver Surfer refers to a generation that has already learned to use notebooks, tablets and smartphones, but the constant change with updates, new interfaces, protocols, authentication methods, etc. can still overwhelm them. In addition, there are often poor eyesight or poor concentration, and motor skills can also play a role from a certain age, so that people sometimes complain that everything is "too complicated", "too fast" or simply "cannot be understood".

Therefore, offers have to be created to promote the development of digital skills, ensure readability and break down barriers or keep them as low as possible. There are already initiatives in some institutions, and non-profit associations have made participation in digital life for older people a priority and offer programs. One example is the association Wege aus der Einsamkeit (Ways out of loneliness). They brought a project into life, where explanatory videos on how to use smartphones are regularly posted online and courses are offered - at these times when a visit on site is not possible, of course via Zoom.

By the way: Not only residents and patients benefit from easy-to-use WiFi. While in too many facilities the patient's data are still recorded on paper or written down on a notepad and entered in an electronic database afterwards, others appreciate the electronic patient file wherever available, to be filled in directly in the respective room via tablet. It is clear, however, that this data in particular belongs to the highly sensitive class and is particularly worth protecting. But even very private activities of the elderly on the Internet should take place in a protected setting that does not leave them completely defenceless against the risks of the digital world.

Special requirements to the senior WiFi

That leads us back to the beginning: Simply providing WiFi for everyone is by far not enough. Internet access has to be regulated, and this requires comprehensive advice and support - ideally from a long-term local partner who relies on European solutions. Let's briefly summarize the challenges:

  • Establish or expand the WiFi infrastructure
  • Make access clear and easy, yet safe and regulated
  • Comprehensive advice and support for institutions
  • Provide simple interfaces for admins too
  • Ensure GDPR compliance
  • Ensure long-term availability

Opportunities for integrators and resellers

The moment couldn't be more favorable. Since digitization is only just beginning in this area, there are extensive projects ahead and there is a lot to be done. Governments also know this and are putting together a wide range of public funding packages. As already mentioned, there are 12,500 care facilities in Germany alone. These include many nursing homes, residential homes and senior citizens' residences that still require the entire infrastructure for comprehensive WiFi, from Internet access to servers, switches and access points to the login page.

With IACBOX we deliver the right software for it: The IACBOX Silver Surfer edition - a module that specifically covers the needs in these facilities. Residents can use the Internet safely, barrier-free and legally compliant via WiFi. With a separate SurfLAN, the residents' sensitive data remain completely protected, online access is secured and reserved for authorized persons. The available bandwidth is adjustable, if desired a separate policy can be set up for visitors or employees with private or company-owned devices. Options for restricting and blocking certain services are available as well as protection against unwanted content. Building areas such as living quarters, lobbies, lounges etc. can be provided with a separate login page and / or different login methods via VLAN or SSID.

The included templates for the login page - as barrier-free as possible - take into account eye-friendly contrast for better readability and a simplified page layout with input fields with a clearly recognizable purpose so that the residents can use them independently. The role of the admin user who should create or manage new access for residents has also been considered. Supplied templates and pre-sets make the overview easier. In addition, there are clear, natural language instructions and "how-to's" for low-threshold access to the administrative tasks of a WiFi portal - for satisfied residents and stress-elieved staff.

Tell us about your experiences and the special challenges in this area and send us an email to sales@iacbox.com.

Are you interested in wireless Internet access for guests, staff or things for your enterprise, or do you provide network solutions for clients? Drop a few lines to share your opinion with us: service@asteas.com

At Asteas, we see it as our task to shape wireless Internet access in networks efficient and legally conformant for the supplier, efficient and comfortable for the user and secure for both.

For more information, visit our website www.asteas.com or contact us here.

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