This literature review aims to promote the improved dissemination of legal information to older people. It examines the legal information needs of older Australians and the most effective ways of providing information to them. Very little material, however, is available on older people's legal information needs and seeking behaviour. For this reason, this review includes reports and articles that look at information needs and the sources used in other areas, particularly health.
Although an extensive literature search was conducted, the material included in this review is selective rather than exhaustive. It contains reports and articles cited in major Australian databases.
The report is divided into two parts. Part 1—the literature review—presents the key findings based on the material. Part 2 presents summaries for some of the key articles and reports cited in the literature review. The executive summary contains the key findings and points from Part 1.
Key points and findings
The legal information needs of older people
Older people find it difficult to identify what they need or want to know about their legal rights. Studies on the legal needs of older people found that they need information on the legal aspects of:
Older people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, Aboriginal older people, the socially isolated, and those living in remote areas need information on similar topics but their priorities may differ and their needs may be stronger.
Awareness and knowledge of services and information
Many older people, like the population as a whole, do relatively little information seeking when they are facing a problem or critical situation. Often only one source is approached.
In addition, many do not seek information until it is needed—"until the time comes". For example, many think there is no need to worry about enduring power of attorney or an advanced health directive until later in life, or they believe their family will take care of issues such as substitute decision-making.
In retrospect, however, older people often wished they had sought more information before "the time came". Other key findings about information acquisition include:
Barriers to information acquisition can arise from the characteristics of older people themselves or from the characteristics of information providers. Barriers associated with the characteristics of older people include:
As many older people do not realise they have legal information needs, it is necessary to take a proactive approach when promoting services. Providers should help to make older people aware of their needs, for example, the importance of making arrangements for end of life contingencies.
In addition, the diversity of older people means that it is important to select specific target groups/segments and develop different messages and strategies for each group.
There is general agreement on which information provision strategies are most effective: face-to-face methods are recommended by both older people and by providers. These should be supplemented by printed information. In addition, local newspapers, presentations, radio (particularly talkback radio), telephone information services, and television are recommended.
Additional strategies for dissemination of information to older people about legal issues include:
Providing information to older people is complex because of the diversity of the group and many older people's low perception of their needs. Many different pathways to information need to be provided. There has, however, been limited empirical evidence on the effectiveness of different methods and strategies. Further research is needed in this area and on when older people need legal information, how they acquire it and what they do with the information when it is provided.