Los Angeles Times
Senior citizens need more medical care than anyone else in the United States. And the internet is chock full of health information. Yet seniors are far less likely than other adults to tap into it, new research shows.
A 2016 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that only about 18 percent of participants in the National Health and Aging Trends Study got health information online in 2014.
That pales in comparison with the approximately 60 percent of adults of all ages who have told the Pew Research Center that they consult Dr. Google at least once a year — including the 35 percent who said they rely on the web to diagnose their own ailments or the maladies of people they know.
Since 2011, thousands of Medicare beneficiaries in the aging trends study have been completing annual surveys that gauge their use of technology. In the survey’s first year, 64 percent of the survey takers had computers and 43 percent were hooked up to the internet. Their average age was 75.
Apparently, these seniors had better things to do than research ways to prevent heart disease, manage symptoms of diabetes or stave off dementia. Email was far more enticing. Electronic banking (but not online shopping) was also a more popular choice.
Among all 7,609 initial study participants, only 16 percent said they went online to learn about health. In addition, 8 percent said they filled prescriptions online, 7 percent used the Internet to get in touch with their doctors and 5 percent dealt with their insurance claims on the web.
Altogether, 21 percent of seniors who were surveyed in 2011 used the internet for at least one of these four health-related tasks, according to the JAMA report. By 2014, that figure rose to 25 percent — a small yet statistically significant increase, the study authors wrote.
Some senior citizens were more likely to go online for health-related reasons than others. For instance, the odds were twice as high for white seniors than for their black and Latino counterparts.
College graduates were seven times more likely to handle health issues online than were seniors who didn’t finish high school.These disparities, along with the slow rate of uptake overall, prompted the study authors to fret that seniors aren’t taking full advantage of the health resources available online.