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For Older Adults, The Internet Might be a Lifeline

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album
Reviewed by Heidi Radunovich, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

My grandmother lived to be over 90, but stayed sharp, lively, and “with it” to the end. I remember receiving email from her when she was well into her 80s—and this was some time ago, too. She’d recognized that the Internet offered a great way for her to stay in touch with her far-flung family.

In Retirement, the Internet Can Help

In fact, according to a new study on older adults and Internet use, my grandma may really have benefited from being online. Researchers writing in a recent study in The Journals of Gerontology looked at about 3000 retired men and women, asking them about their depression symptoms and whether or not they regularly used the Internet. They were able to follow the group from 2002 through 2008, checking up on them every two years.

The results showed that older, retired adults who regularly went online were significantly less likely to report depressive symptoms than those who did not use the Internet. (The researchers were careful to make sure that this wasn’t just because seniors who use the Internet are different from those who don’t.) The scientists found that being online seemed to reduce the older adults’ feelings of isolation and loneliness. This may be why they were less likely to experience feelings of depression. The effect was most noticeable for people living alone, or those living with only one person.

Social Connection Made Easier

In an era when families often are spread all around the country and travel can be extremely expensive, it’s easy to see the appeal of connecting with children, grandchildren and other family via the Internet. Applications that allow us to see each other face to face in real time make the experience even more enjoyable.  Older adults may also enjoy reconnecting with friends from earlier times in their life or making new acquaintances who share similar interests. All of these activities may help foster important feelings of social connection.

Some Want Help With Technology

According to the Pew Research Foundation, more than half of American adults over age 65 report being regular Internet users. However, going online is much more common among those on the younger end of this spectrum. And although many seniors use the Internet often and feel positive about it, they also say they’d like help learning to use today’s technology. For instance, over half of seniors who are online but not active on social networking sites said they’d need assistance to start using these resources.

Resources That Can Help

If you know an older adult who’d like to learn more about current technology, there are options. He or she may be able to take a beginners’ class at the local library, senior center, or community college. The nonprofits SeniorNet and Oasis have computer classes and learning centers around the country. Finally, special applications also exist that allow a trusted helper to access a computer from a remote location. This can be useful if an older family member has computer problems and needs assistance.

So if you know any older adults who could benefit from becoming more comfortable with today’s technology, ask if there’s anything you can do to help out. They’re likely to appreciate the offer—and you may even contribute to improvements in their mental health.

(Photo credit: Codice Internet by Codice Internet. CC BY 2.0.)

References:

Cotten, S. R., Ford, G., Ford, S., & Hale, T. M. (2014). Internet use and depression among retired older adults in the United States: A longitudinal analysis. Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbu018

 Smith, A. (2014). Older adults and technology use: Attitudes, impacts, and barriers to adoption. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/04/03/attitudes-impacts-and-barriers-to-adoption/