In an interesting turn of events, researchers from New York University are positing that regular internet use may be linked to lower dementia risks in older adults. This news in the face of recent conversations about the concern of social media exposure may seem contradictory. But it may not be, when we consider that older adults with cognitive decline may benefit from certain features that the internet offers up, like developing and maintaining cognitive reserve in the face of progressive brain aging, and of course the social benefits of being able to connect with others online.
The researchers in this study followed dementia-free older adults (ages 50 to 64.9) for a maximum of 17.1 years (although the median years followed was 7.9). They concluded with 18,154 older adults. This sample of older adults comes from the well-established national Health and Retirement Study. Researchers asked if the participants used the internet, and how often (their range was from not at all to more than eight hours a day). Considering the different frequency of internet use, researchers found that the group that used the internet for two hours or less a day had the lowest risk of dementia when compared to those who didn’t use the internet at all.
This research is an interesting nuance to add to the spectrum of dementia research, perhaps hinting that there is something stimulating enough about the internet for older adults that it could offset the negative effects of an aging brain (i.e., cognitive decline). However, researchers contend that much more work needs to go into establishing any potential cause and effect, especially since the study did not look at what older adults were exploring online. This leaves the field open for more contribution.
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Cho, G., Betensky, A. R., Chang, W. V., (2023). Internet usage and prospective risk of dementia: A population-based cohort study. https://agsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/jgs.18394