NIH News Release
National Library of Medicine

Friday, December 4, 1998

Bob Mehnert
Kathy Gardner

Seniors Cruise the Net for Health Information
NIH Releases Study Showing Older Americans Don't Want
to be Left Behind on Information Superhighway

(Friday, December 4, 1998, Bethesda, Md.)-The National Library of Medicine (NLM), a part of the National Institutes of Health, today joined the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the Office of Research on Women's Health, and the Department of Health and Human Service's Health Care Financing Administration in releasing the findings of a jointly sponsored project to "train trainers" of senior citizens from around the country in how to access health information on the Internet.

"Results of the project indicate that training had a positive impact on seniors' confidence in using computers and the Internet, in conducting consumer health information searches online, and in sharing health care information with doctors, families and friends," said NLM Director Donald A.B. Lindberg, M.D. He added, "Most importantly, we found that seniors can learn to use the Internet and don't want to be left behind on the information superhighway. Two-thirds of those who searched for health information on the Internet talked about it with their doctors, and more than half indicated they were more satisfied with their treatment as a result of their search."

The Library sponsored this project, in part, because of the growing public enthusiasm for searching MEDLINE on the Web, an NLM service introduced by Vice President Gore in 1997. Noted Dr. Lindberg: "The number of MEDLINE searches has increased amazingly, from 7 million a year to 120 million. And, about one-third of them are being done by consumers, indicative of the increasing public appetite for health information. Making health information on the Internet easily available to all citizens-even those who lack the necessary computer skills was the goal of this project."

The "Train the Trainer" project was developed and implemented by the SPRY Foundation (Setting Priorities for Retirement Years) to give older adults access to valuable health care information on the Internet, teach them how to evaluate the quality of that information, and enable them to exchange this information with family, friends, their community, and their health care providers. In 1997, SPRY brought 20 representatives from senior centers, public libraries, and local agencies on aging to the Library in Bethesda, Maryland, to learn how to teach older Americans how to access health information via the Internet. The trainers, who came from Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, then returned to their communities to recruit and train seniors.

"The findings of this study suggest that the 'train the trainer' approach may be used successfully to enable older adults to access credible medical information on the Internet," said Dr. Russell Morgan, Jr., SPRY Foundation President. He added, "Overall, the study has provided an important next step in understanding the complex issues that related to training older adults to obtain health information on the Internet."

"The findings of this study have important implications for older Americans," said Dr. Vivian W. Pinn, Director of the NIH Office of Research on Women's Health. "As the population continues to age, it is critical that the elderly have access to the latest information about their health based on recent results from biomedical research. Assisting senior citizens in utilizing the wealth of health resources available on the Internet can have important ramifications in enabling them to better understand their health concerns and their health care options."

Jeanette C. Takamura, HHS Assistant Secretary for Aging, commented that "the findings of this project illustrate the extraordinary and continuing adaptability of our diverse older generation, and validates the need for current, reliable, and timely information to assist our family members in making educated decisions about important areas of their life, such as health care and family caregiving."

An NIH-supported conference scheduled for the spring of 1999, "Older Adults, Health Information, and the World Wide Web," will explore recent theories in education for older adults, how information is presented to seniors to increase their understanding, and what is the most effective model curriculum for training older adults to use the World Wide Web for health information.

The report, "Internet Train-the-Trainer Program for Older Adults," may be requested from the Library's Office of Communications and Public Liaison. E-mail requests may be directed to Further information about the National Library of Medicine is on the web: