The relationship between health IT use and age is not linear. On one end of the spectrum, younger individuals are more likely to use the computer and the internet. On the other end of the spectrum, older people may have greater health needs—a key factor in predicting health IT use. As a result, individuals in the middle years (their 30s to early 60s) are more likely to go online than are their younger and healthier or their older and less computer-savvy counterparts.
Empirically, one survey found that 95% of adolescents ages 12-19 were internet users, but only about one-quarter of those internet users looked for health information online. In every other age group, the proportion of internet users who had looked for health information online exceeded the percentage of internet users who had NOT looked up health information online. There are, however, some topics that are more popular among younger internet users (ages 18-29) than those ages 30-49, including information on exercise or fitness, sexual health, and smoking, alcohol and drugs.
Other studies have found that health information seeking remains relatively high among internet users ages 19-64 (between 78%-84% in one survey), and begins to drop off among internet users above the age of 65 (68%). Older individuals are more likely to say that most of their health information comes from doctors or other health professionals than younger adults. Similarly, they are less likely to cite the internet as that main source of health information. Lower income seniors are particularly unlikely to use the internet for health information; one study found that 8% of individuals ages 65 or over who have incomes under $20,000 had gone online for health information, compared to 43% of individuals in that age group with incomes greater than $50,000.
Older adults who do go online for health information may have different experiences. About 20% of older adults reported that searching online for health information required a lot of effort, while none of the adolescents surveyed said the same. A larger share of adults ages 65 and older also say that they don’t trust the internet “at all” as a source of accurate information related to important health topics, than do adults ages 50-64.