New research has found that using the internet frequently could improve the mental wellbeing of older adults.
The new study, by researchers at University College London (UCL), looked at data gathered from more than 9,000 people over the age of 50 who were followed over a period of six years.
After collecting data on participants’ internet use and life satisfaction, which was measured from five (lowest satisfaction) to 35 (highest satisfaction), the team found that using the internet daily had a long-term positive effect on wellbeing. Participants who went online every day reported average life satisfaction scores of 26.12, compared to 24.44 for those who used the internet every month or less. They also had a lower average depression score of 1.02 — measured on a scale from zero (no depressive symptoms) to 8 — compared to 1.76 for those who had never used the internet.
Those who used the internet on a daily basis also saw bigger increases in their life satisfaction scores over the course of the study than those who used the internet weekly or never, and they had the highest scores overall at the end of the six years.
The findings, which were published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, showed that the benefits were even bigger for those from higher socioeconomic groups. Not only were the wealthiest participants more likely to use the internet each day, but those in the highest educational and occupational groups also experienced a larger positive impact on their mental health with frequent internet use than those in the lowest groups.
The researchers say the study is the first to investigate the links between internet use and mental health. They add that the findings suggest that encouraging older adults to use the internet to socialize could help reduce the negative impacts of social isolation and loneliness on mental health, as those who used the internet to communicate and keep in touch with others showed lower levels of depression and higher life satisfaction than those who used it to access information.
Senior author Dr. Stephen Jivraj noted, “While some studies suggest that spending an excessive amount of time on the internet correlates with negative mental health in younger age samples, our research suggests that more should be done to encourage internet use among older adults, especially as a tool for building and maintaining social ties to improve wellbeing. Initiatives such as installing public Wi-Fi in areas frequented by older people and in areas where usage may be low due to barriers to access and digital exclusion could help to address this.”
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