Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Regular Internet Use May Lower Dementia Risk in Older Adults

Older adults who use the internet regularly have nearly half the risk of dementia as adults with limited internet use, according to a report in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study also suggested that the more years of regular internet use, the more pronounced the dementia benefits become.

“Our findings show evidence of a digital divide in the cognitive health of older-age adults,” wrote Gawon Cho, B.A., B.B.A., Rebecca Betensky, Ph.D., and Virginia Chang, M.D., Ph.D., of New York University. The benefits of regular internet use did not vary based on race/ethnicity, sex, educational attainment, or generation. “Therefore, we did not find evidence that the internet has exacerbated socioeconomic disparities in the burden of dementia.”

Cho and colleagues used data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), an ongoing biennial survey of community-dwelling adults aged 50 years and older. Since 2002, HRS participants have been asked the following yes/no survey question: “Do you regularly use the World Wide Web, or the Internet, for sending and receiving e-mail or for any other purpose, such as making purchases, searching for information, or making travel reservations?” Based on participants’ baseline response to this question, they were divided into two groups: regular internet users or nonregular internet users.

The analysis by Cho and colleagues included 18,154 adults aged 50 to 64 who did not have dementia at baseline and who responded to at least one survey between 2002 and 2016. Participants were then followed until they stopped completing the HRS survey or they completed the 2018 HRS survey (the median follow-up period was about 8 years).

Overall, about 65% of participants considered themselves regular internet users at baseline, and most of these adults continued to report regular use of the internet during subsequent surveys. The researchers found that adults who used the internet regularly at baseline had a 43% reduced risk of dementia during the follow-up period. The benefits seemed to be cumulative; that is, for every survey period in which a participant reported regular internet use, dementia risk dropped by about 20%.

“Since a person’s online engagement may include a wide range of activities, future research may identify different patterns of internet usage associated with the cognitively healthy lifespan while being mindful of the potential side effects of excessive usage,” Cho and colleagues concluded.

(Image: iStock/SDI Productions)

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