According to The Internet, I Died Three Days Ago: A Neuropsychological Investigation of How Older Adults Search for Health Information Online



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Estimates suggest that 60-80% of Americans use the Internet to search for health information. Searching the Internet is a complex and dynamic goal-oriented process that places demand on multiple cognitive domains. Aging is associated with multiple changes to health and neurocognition, which may make it challenging for older adults to function well in an era of ubiquitous technology use. The aims of the current study were 1) to examine the effects of age on electronic health (eHealth) search behavior, and 2) to understand the relationship between eHealth task performance and related aspects of everyday functioning, including health literacy and health engagement. Fifty younger adults (≤ 35 years old) and 41 older adults (≥50 years old) completed two naturalistic eHealth search tasks fact-finding (Fact Search) and symptom diagnosis (Symptom Search), a neurocognitive battery, and a series of questionnaires. Multiple regression models revealed that older adults were slower and less accurate than younger adults on the Fact Search, but not on the Symptom Search task after controlling for relevant covariates. Mediation analyses revealed that executive functions partially mediated the relationship between age and Fact Search and Symptom Search accuracy. Multiple regression models also revealed that health literacy was related to eHealth task performance, particularly in older adults. In contrast, neither self-perceived health literacy nor health engagement was positively related to eHealth task performance. These findings suggest that increasing age is associated with problems with in some, but not all, aspects of health information search. Furthermore, executive functions and health literacy are important contributors to eHealth search behavior in the context of aging.



world wide web, everyday functioning, activities of daily living, neurocognitive functioning, information seeking, electronic health literacy