The Internet has become a central part of life. Dwarfing the perceived prominence of the television as the center of family life over the last few decades, the Internet is a main source of information, entertainment and communication.
With so many individuals spending hours on the Internet every day, there have been concerns that heightened online living might increase the risk for certain mental disorders, and especially depression. Those who spent excessive time on the Internet have been found in previous research to exhibit increased rates of depression, isolation and loneliness.
However, a new study says that the findings may not hold true when it comes to seniors. Researchers from the University of Alabama found that seniors who use the Internet on a regular basis experience lower levels of depression than their peers who do not use the Internet.
Previous research at the University of Illinois has shown that depression tends to hit its lowest rates at the age of 45, and the highest rates are found among seniors over the age of 80. When the Internet is a part of life, however, those rates may be different.
The researchers included 8,000 individuals over the age of 50 and conducted a survey to determine levels of Internet use. The participants were then evaluated for mental health issues.
The results of the measurement showed that seniors who regularly use the Internet for social networking were nearly one-third less likely to meet the criteria for depression when compared to other seniors who did not use the Internet.
Led by Dr. Shelia Cotton, a sociologist at the University of Alabama, the findings showed that prevalence was shown to increase from a rate of five percent at the age of 70 to approximately 13 percent at the age of 85. The most prominent features of depression at this age are social isolation, loneliness and a lack of emotional support.
Dr. Cotton explains that the findings show that there may be a connection between Internet use and a positive effect on depressive symptoms.
The Pew Research Centre shows that seniors are increasingly utilizing the Internet, with about one-third of those over the age of 65 logging on to social networking sites. This is a significant increase over the six percent who used social networking sites only three years before.
In situations where seniors have reduced mobility or live alone, social networking can help them keep in touch with family and help them stay socially engaged.
Family members may need to spend time helping older seniors get started on social networking sites, but the benefits may far outweigh the initial time spent. Seniors experiencing isolation and loneliness may improve their quality of life by regularly logging into a social networking site.