Unexplored territory: Information behaviour in the fourth age

Terryl M. Asla, Kirsty Williamson

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Introduction. World population is ageing at unprecedented rate. Little is known about the information behaviour of persons in the fourth age (also known as ill-derly or disability zone), most of whom are very old. The study explored the everyday life information needs of these people, the sources and processes they used to meet those needs, and their continuing ability to use computers and the Internet for meeting those information needs. Method. Employing an interpretivist/constructivist worldview, this two-year, largely qualitative study employed semi-structured interviews and observation to study the information behaviour of 25 participants residing at two independent-living retirement communities. Analysis. Interviews were taped and transcribed; observation notes were taken and transcribed. The interview transcripts and observation notes were analysed for themes and categories. Results. The major information needs were: the health and wellness of themselves and their families and friends, pharmaceuticals, personal income and finance, assistive devices, safe mental challenges, legal matters, consumer goods, and benefits and services. Information sources included: caregivers, intimate social networks, wider social networks, mass media, small world sources, and outside professional and institutional sources. Proxy information seekers became increasingly important. Conclusions. Information needs, sources and processes inevitably decline as individuals proceed through the fourth age. However, by providing opportunities to engage in favoured activities and offering outside support, that decline can often be slowed or even temporarily reversed.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalInformation Research: an international electronic journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015


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