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Seniors should contribute to online health discussions

March 27, 2013

Chances are most people have turned to the internet for help diagnosing a health issue. The web has become a valuable tool in the pursuit of healthy senior living, but new research from Brigham Young University suggests we're not using it to its full potential. Scientists found that internet users are less likely to ask questions, post experiences and include other facts about themselves online, but doing so could improve what information is available.

The study, which was published recently in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, found that 60 percent of internet users have looked for health information online, but only 10 percent of those posted reviews about doctors and healthcare facilities. Furthermore, only about 15 percent contributed to the discussion through comments, questions or shared information. Experts say that if users were more active in the discussion, they may be able to gain more benefits from heading online.

"If you only have a few people sharing their experience with using a painkiller, that's different than 10,000 people doing that," said Rosemary Thackeray, the study's lead author. "If we're really going to use this social media aspect, there needs to be a true collective wisdom of the crowds."

The results may be particularly interesting to the senior population, which is among the fastest-growing segments of the online community. In fact, a 2012 survey from the Pew Research Center found 53 percent of adults 65 and older use the internet - an all time high.