New Study Suggests Regular Internet Usage Can Lower the Risk of Dementia
Those who were online regularly had half the risk of developing dementia, compared to less frequent users or non-users. Photo: PixelsEffect/Getty Images
Longevity may be the most important trend we’ve ever experienced. It’s driven by — and in turn, it affects — everything from health to housing, money to technology, lifestyle to social policy. There’s so much to be aware of — and it’s just getting started! Now you can keep up with all the latest developments in this weekly column.
A new study published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society claims that older adults who “regularly” use the internet show a lower risk of developing dementia.
The study has been widely reported; you can get details here, here and here.
The study, conducted by researchers at New York University, followed 18,154 adults aged 50-64, who did not have dementia. They were tracked for about eight years. Each participant was asked a question at the beginning of the study, and then every second year, as to whether or not they regularly used the internet for sending or receiving emails or for other purposes like information or making purchases.
Researchers recorded how many hours a day the participants spent online, from zero to eight hours.
Results: those who used the internet regularly “were associated with approximately half the risk of dementia compared to non-regular usage.”
The results applied regardless of other factor like education, race, ethnicity, gender and generation.
The money quote, from study co-author Dr. Virginia W. Chang:
“Online engagement may help to develop and maintain cognitive reserve, which can in turn compensate for brain aging and reduce the risk of dementia.”
This doesn’t necessarily mean the more hours, the better. Researchers found that two hours or so seemed to be the “sweet spot,” and that those who were online for six to eight hours a day actually had a higher risk of dementia. However they cautioned that the sample size was too small for that finding to be statistically significant, and that more research is needed.
I expect to see more research and fine tuning. It may not be just a case of how many hours, but what kinds of sites are engaged with. How much time is spent viewing content, for example, and how much is spent interactively (shopping, entering search queries, participating in online chat or gaming)?
I’ve developed this line of inquiry more fully in the new book I co-authored with Larry Wolf — Superaging: Getting Older Without Getting Old. We reported on some interesting research carried out by the government of British Columbia, on the benefits of digital engagement. While the context was the alleviation of social isolation, and not specifically dementia, the findings support this new study.
The B.C. research suggests some strong benefits to seniors from engaging in online game-playing. From our book: “The 2016 British Columbia study reported on a number of research projects demonstrating the myriad benefits of these games for aging individuals. Apart from the cognitive improvements associated with digital gameplay, games create opportunities for social interaction, providing ‘a venue for developing social capital and strengthening social ties both online and offline.’”
It’s encouraging to note, too, that the “older” population — particularly SuperAgers — have strongly embraced the digital world and its possibilities. In Canada, for example, over 90 per cent of the 65+ population is online daily.
David Cravit is a Vice-President at ZoomerMedia, and Chief Membership Officer of CARP. He is also the author of several books on the “reinvention” of aging. You can check out some of his other writing here.