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An Exploration of Search Patterns and Credibility Issues among Older Adults Seeking Online Health Information*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 November 2011

Laura Robertson-Lang*
Department of Psychology, Acadia University
Sonya Major
Department of Psychology, Acadia University
Heather Hemming
School of Education, Acadia University
Correspondence and requests for offprints should be sent to / La correspondance et les demandes de tirés-à-part doivent être adressées à: Laura Robertson-Lang, M.Sc. Sheldon M. Chumir Health Centre Shared Mental Health Care 1213 – 4th Street SW Calgary, AB T2R 0X7 (


The Internet is an important resource for health information, among younger and older people alike. Unfortunately, there are limitations associated with online health information. Research is needed on the quality of information found online and on whether users are being critical consumers of the information they find. Also, there is a need for research investigating online use among adults aged 65 and over – a rapidly growing demographic of Internet users. The current study presents important descriptive data about the search patterns of older adults seeking online health information, the types of health topics they research, and whether they consider credibility issues when retrieving online health information. A comparison is also made between search strategies used in printed text and hypertext environments. The results, which have implications with respect to credibility issues, highlight the need to increase awareness about critical searching skills among older adult Internet users.


L’Internet est une ressource importante des informations sur la santé, parmi les jeunes et les aînés aussi. Malheureusement, il y a des limites associées aux renseignements en ligne sur la santé. Des travaux de recherche sont nécessaires pour évaluer la qualité des informations trouvées en ligne et pour déterminer si les utilisateurs sont des consommateurs critiques des informations qu’ils y trouvent. On a besoin aussi de la recherche pour étudier comment utilisent l’enquête en ligne les personnes de 65 ans et plus – un contingent démographique croissant des utilisateurs de l’Internet. L’étude actuelle présente des importantes données descriptives sur les motifs de recherche de personnes agées cherchant des informations de santé en ligne, les types de sujets qu’ils là recherchent, et si elles considèrent les questions de crédibilité lors de la récupération des informations de santé en ligne. Une comparaison est également faite entre les stratégies de recherche utilisées dans le texte imprimé et dans les hypertextes environnants. Les résultats, qui ont d’importantes implications en ce qui concerne les questions de crédibilité, soulignent la nécessité d’accroître la sensibilisation au sujet des compétences essentielles en chercher chez les personnes âgées qui sont utilisateurs de l’Internet.

Copyright © Canadian Association on Gerontology 2011

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The study was conducted in the Acadia Digital Culture Observatory (ADCO) at Acadia University. Funding for this study was provided by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).


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