Health Information Seeking on the Internet - Implications for Health Anxiety in the Elderly

Branka Bagarić, Nataša Jokić-Begić

Abstract


Health information seeking on the Internet has become widespread. Since the elderly experience more health issues, they might become more frequent users of digital health content. But, since their computer skills are less advanced and since they are not used to the role of the „empowered patient“, researching their symptoms online might result in excessive anxiety. Research suggests that health information seeking might be a risk factor for pathological health anxiety, yet it may have a specific effect on the elderly. Studies on health information seeking in older adults are sparse and mostly conducted without a clear theoretical framework which complicates meaningful interpretation and integration of their findings. Therefore, the aim of this review paper is to propose such theoretical framework; Leventhal’s Common-sense model of self-regulation, and to review findings of previous studies in the area integrating them in the proposed model. According to this model, ageing and age-related changes in the self, affect health-related cognitions and behaviours. Health information seeking may be conceptualized as a coping response to both health threat and emotional discomfort, which has consequences on illness representations (identity, cause, consequences, control, and timeline), health behaviours and outcomes. Special emphasis was placed to a way in which health information seeking online can result in health anxiety according to the proposed model. Finally, avenues for future research are provided and their practical implications considered.

Keywords


health information seeking; the elderly; health anxiety; common-sense model of self-regulation; cyberchondria

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