New research suggests that time spent perusing the Internet may actually reduce the probability of depression in older adults by as much as 33 percent. Early research on Internet usage and older adults has found mixed results, with some studies suggesting health benefits and others being inconclusive—probably, in part, due to small sample size.
However, new research published in the Journal of Gerontology has found more conclusive evidence for the health benefits of the web. The researchers analyzed four waves of data (2002-2008) from the Health and Retirement Survey (HRS), creating a large and robust sample of older adults to study. The HRS is longitudinal household survey data that is used to study retired individuals in the United States. By means of this large sample and across multiple methods, the researchers found Internet use to contribute to a positive state of well-being in older adults. What’s more, this positive effect was more pronounced for older adults who lived by themselves.
Thus, it appears that depression in older adults is spurred by the social isolation and loneliness that can increase in later life. Theoretically, the authors argued that the underlying mechanism contributing to the positive relationship between Internet use and well-being was enhanced feelings of connectedness and social support, in addition to an increased ability for older adults to gather information and make decisions for themselves via the Internet.
Due to its large sample size, the researchers elucidate the relationship between Internet use and positive health-related outcomes as few prior studies could . Naturally, more research is needed before any strong conclusions are made. However, given the research to date, it may not be a bad idea to encourage older adults to learn how to navigate the web.