Online & On Edge: Older Adults’ Internet Use & Stress Levels during the Pandemic

Past research has resulted in conflicting findings about the relationship between internet use and well-being among older adults. In a recent study of Israelis age 60 and better, researchers examined the relationship between internet use and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic. They sought to illuminate whether some types of internet use could help older adults cope with stress.

The study was conducted during April 2020, the fourth week of lockdown for participants. Researchers recruited for the online survey from a panel of 50,000 Israeli internet users. They selected a random sample of participants who were at least 60 years old. A total of 407 individuals completed the survey. Of those, the mean age was 69, 77% had attended at least some college, and about 60% were retired. Participants were asked about changes in their internet use since the pandemic began, stress resulting from the pandemic, and their well-being.

Participants reported increased internet use since the start of the pandemic. The largest increase was for use of applications for social reasons, including Zoom, Skype, and WhatsApp. Using the internet for “online errands” (shopping, financial management, and medical appointments) was the second biggest increase in internet use.

Respondents’ stress levels tended to be moderate to high. Worries about others (infected friends, infected relatives, and family economic strain) scored the highest on the scales measuring stress.

The researchers found a relationship between stress and increased internet use for interpersonal communication and online errands. Increased stress was negatively associated with well-being. The only type of internet use increase that was associated with higher well-being was visiting websites related to hobbies and interests. It appeared that many participants were attempting to cope with the stress of pandemic by using the internet to receive emotional support, as well as for online errands to decrease the risk of infection. However, these activities were not associated with enhanced well-being. As increased internet use for hobbies and interests was associated with higher well-being, practitioners working with older adults during the pandemic may consider encouraging them to use the internet for these recreational purposes.

 

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Source:

Nimrod G. Changes in Internet use when coping with stress: Older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, (2020); Oct 1.

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