Depression In Seniors Can Be Partially Alleviated By Internet Use
April 18, 2014

Study Finds That Internet Use Can Help Seniors Fight Off Depression

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

As many as 10 million Americans over the age of 50 suffer from late-life depression, but new research suggests that many of those individuals could ward off the symptoms of the disorder simply by spending more time online.

The study, which has been published online in The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, claims that regular Internet use could reduce the probability of depression in retirees by as much as one-third.

“Retired persons are a population of interest, particularly because one mechanism by which Internet use may affect depression is to counter the effects of isolation and loneliness, which are more common among older adults,” the authors wrote. “Also, working individuals may be required to use the Internet rather than choosing to, and may use the technology for different reasons than those not working.”

“That’s a very strong effect,” lead investigator and Michigan State University telecommunications, information studies and media professor Shelia Cotton explained in a statement Thursday. “And it all has to do with older persons being able to communicate, to stay in contact with their social networks, and just not feel lonely.”

In what Cotton calls “one of the largest and most comprehensive surveys” of its kind, she and experts from the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic Public Policy Studies, the University of Montevallo and Harvard Medical School analyzed data collected as part of the Health and Retirement Study, a longitudinal study which collects information from more than 22,000 older Americans every two years.

The sample used for this particular study included 3,075 respondents observed over four separate waves of data from 2002 through 2008, resulting in a total of 12,300 observations. Online activity was measured based on a question asking participants whether or not they regularly used the Internet for sending/receiving email or any other purpose. Depression was gauged using a version of the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale.

After eliminating other variables, Cotton and her colleagues found that Internet users had an average predicted probability of depression of .07, compared to .105 for those who did not regularly go online. Based on their findings, the authors report that Internet use resulted in a 33 percent reduction in the probability of depression.

“Number of people in the household partially mediates this relationship, with the reduction in depression largest for people living alone,” the authors wrote. “This provides some evidence that the mechanism linking Internet use to depression is the remediation of social isolation and loneliness. Encouraging older adults to use the Internet may help decrease isolation, loneliness, and depression.”

However, Cotton advises setting limits when it comes to surfing the Web: “If you sit in front of a computer all day, ignoring the roles you have in life and the things you need to accomplish as part of your daily life, then it’s going to have a negative impact on you. But if you’re using it in moderation and you’re doing things that enhance your life, then the impacts are likely to be positive in terms of health and well-being.”