Some seniors missing out on web health information
Seniors are the fastest-growing segment of the web-using population, relying on the Internet to communicate, catch the news or even just connect with friends and loved ones. However, recent research from the University of Michigan reveals that Americans 65 and over are missing out on learning about one crucial category on the World Wide Web: their health.
According to the study, published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, seniors with low health literacy are also unlikely to use the Internet, and the population of health illiterate adults that do use the web rarely access health information, regardless of the quality of that information. This creates a cycle where seniors who know little about their health are unlikely to ever learn, putting them at risk of suffering from otherwise identifiable and treatable conditions.
“Interventions specifically targeting health literacy among Internet-using older adults may be effective for narrowing the digital divide by facilitating their ability to obtain medical information online,” states Dr. Helen Levy, an associate professor at the University of Michigan’s School for Public Health in Ann Arbor. “Even in the absence of such interventions, screening for low health literacy in the clinical setting can help clinicians identify patients who are likely to have difficulty adopting to change.”
Levy structured her research around issuing surveys to about 1400 seniors (defined as those 65 years or older in the study) that asked questions regarding frequency and type of Internet use and overall health literacy, as well as taking measures of cognitive function and general demographics.
The survey identified that while nearly one-third of seniors with high health literacy go online to find information about their health, only about 10 percent of individuals with low health literacy do the same. As such, Levy and her team note health literacy is one of the most important factors in determining whether or not users turn to the web for health information.
While Levy is hopeful about the benefits that expanded access of health technology could bring, she also cautions that closing the digital divide and increasing levels of health literacy is crucial to ensuring the health not only of seniors, but of all going forward.
“Health information technology, like any innovation in health care, offers both the promise of significant benefits and the risk that those benefits will not be shared equally,” Dr. Levy writes. “As Internet use becomes increasingly relevant to the provision of health care, programs must address barriers to substantive use among vulnerable populations, or otherwise risk deepening the existing disparities in access and outcomes.”
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.