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      Internet Use Among Older Adults: Association With Health Needs, Psychological Capital, and Social Capital

      , PhD 1 , , , PhD 1
      (Reviewer), (Reviewer)
      Journal of Medical Internet Research
      JMIR Publications Inc.
      older adults, Internet use, health needs, psychological capital, social capital

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          Previous studies have identified socioeconomic status and health status as predictors of older adults’ computer and Internet use, but researchers have not examined the relationships between older adults’ health needs and psychological capital (emotional well-being and self-efficacy) and social capital (social integration/ties and support networks) to different types of Internet use.


          This study examined (1) whether older adults’ health conditions and psychological and social capital differentiate Internet users from nonusers, and (2) whether the Internet users differed in their types of Internet use on the basis of their health conditions and psychological and social capital.


          Data for this study came from the National Health and Aging Trends Study, which is based on a nationally representative sample of US Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 years and older. The sample for this study were those who resided in the community in their own or others’ homes (N=6680). Binary logistic regression analysis was used to compare health needs, psychological capital, and social capital among (1) any type of Internet users and nonusers, (2) Internet users who engaged in health-related tasks and Internet users who did not, (3) Internet users who engaged in shopping/banking tasks and Internet users who did not, and (4) Internet users only used the Internet for email/texting and all other Internet users.


          Depressive and anxiety symptoms, measures of psychological capital, were negatively associated with Internet use among older adults (odds ratio [OR] 0.83, 95% CI 0.70-0.98, P=.03 and OR 0.79, 95% CI 0.65-0.97, P=.03, respectively), whereas most measures of social capital were positively associated with Internet use. Having more chronic medical conditions and engaging in formal volunteering increased the odds of Internet use for health-related tasks by 1.15 (95% CI 1.08-1.23, P<.001) and 1.28 (95% CI 1.05-1.57, P=.02), respectively, but anxiety symptoms decreased the odds (OR 0.74, 95% CI 0.55-0.99, P=.05). Religious service attendance was negatively associated with Internet use for shopping/banking activities (OR 0.75, 95% CI 0.62-0.91, P=.01). Anxiety symptoms increased the odds of using the Internet only for emails/texting (OR 1.75, 95% CI 1.12-2.75, P=.02), but formal volunteering decreased the odds (OR 0.63, 95% CI 0.43-0.92, P=.02). Other correlates of Internet use solely for emails/texting were older age (80-84 years and ≥85 years), a black or “other” racial/ethnic background, a high school education or less than high school, and lower income.


          The findings point to the importance of social capital in facilitating older adults’ learning and adoption of Internet technology. Older adults who used the Internet for email/texting purposes only were the most socially and economically disadvantaged group of Internet users. Computer/Internet training for older adults and computer/Internet use for various purposes need to consider the significant role their social capital can play.

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          Most cited references38

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          eHealth Literacy: Extending the Digital Divide to the Realm of Health Information

          Background eHealth literacy is defined as the ability of people to use emerging information and communications technologies to improve or enable health and health care. Objective The goal of this study was to explore whether literacy disparities are diminished or enhanced in the search for health information on the Internet. The study focused on (1) traditional digital divide variables, such as sociodemographic characteristics, digital access, and digital literacy, (2) information search processes, and (3) the outcomes of Internet use for health information purposes. Methods We used a countrywide representative random-digital-dial telephone household survey of the Israeli adult population (18 years and older, N = 4286). We measured eHealth literacy; Internet access; digital literacy; sociodemographic factors; perceived health; presence of chronic diseases; as well as health information sources, content, search strategies, and evaluation criteria used by consumers. Results Respondents who were highly eHealth literate tended to be younger and more educated than their less eHealth-literate counterparts. They were also more active consumers of all types of information on the Internet, used more search strategies, and scrutinized information more carefully than did the less eHealth-literate respondents. Finally, respondents who were highly eHealth literate gained more positive outcomes from the information search in terms of cognitive, instrumental (self-management of health care needs, health behaviors, and better use of health insurance), and interpersonal (interacting with their physician) gains. Conclusions The present study documented differences between respondents high and low in eHealth literacy in terms of background attributes, information consumption, and outcomes of the information search. The association of eHealth literacy with background attributes indicates that the Internet reinforces existing social differences. The more comprehensive and sophisticated use of the Internet and the subsequent increased gains among the high eHealth literate create new inequalities in the domain of digital health information. There is a need to educate at-risk and needy groups (eg, chronically ill) and to design technology in a mode befitting more consumers.
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            Older Adults Talk Technology: Technology Usage and Attitudes.

            Older adults (n = 113) participated in focus groups discussing their use of and attitudes about technology in the context of their home, work, and healthcare. Participants reported using a wide variety of technology items, particularly in their homes. Positive attitudes (i.e., likes) outnumbered negative attitudes (i.e., dislikes), suggesting that older adults perceive the benefits of technology use to outweigh the costs of such use. Positive attitudes were most frequently related to how the technology supported activities, enhanced convenience, and contained useful features. Negative attitudes were most frequently associated with technology creating inconveniences, unhelpful features, as well as security and reliability concerns. Given that older adults reported more positive than negative attitudes about the technologies they use, these results contradict stereotypes that older adults are afraid or unwilling to use technology. These findings also highlight the importance of perceived benefits of use and ease of use for models of technology acceptance. Emphasizing the benefits of technology in education and training programs may increase future technology adoption.
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              Social disconnectedness, perceived isolation, and health among older adults.

              Previous research has identified a wide range of indicators of social isolation that pose health risks, including living alone, having a small social network, infrequent participation in social activities, and feelings of loneliness. However multiple forms of isolation are rarely studied together making it difficult to determine which aspects of isolation are most deleterious for health. Using population-based data from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project, we combine multiple indicators of social isolation into scales assessing social disconnectedness (e.g., small social network, infrequent participation in social activities) and perceived isolation (e.g., loneliness, perceived lack of social support). We examine the extent to which social disconnectedness and perceived isolation have distinct associations with physical and mental health among older adults. Results indicate that social disconnectedness and perceived isolation are independently associated with lower levels of self-rated physical health. However, the association between disconnectedness and mental health may operate through the strong relationship between perceived isolation and mental health. We conclude that health researchers need to consider social disconnectedness and perceived isolation simultaneously.

                Author and article information

                J Med Internet Res
                Journal of Medical Internet Research
                JMIR Publications Inc. (Toronto, Canada )
                May 2013
                16 May 2013
                : 15
                : 5
                : e97
                [1] 1The University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work The University of Texas at Austin Austin, TXUnited States
                Author notes
                Corresponding Author: Namkee G Choi nchoi@ 123456austin.utexas.edu
                ©Namkee G Choi, Diana M DiNitto. Originally published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (http://www.jmir.org), 16.05.2013.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on http://www.jmir.org/, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.

                : 03 September 2012
                : 08 February 2013
                : 14 February 2013
                : 24 April 2013
                Original Paper

                older adults,internet use,health needs,psychological capital,social capital
                older adults, internet use, health needs, psychological capital, social capital


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