Internet Use Could Help With Depression

Internet use by elderly people can sharply reduce the likelihood of depression, a common ailment among older Americans, research shows.

The finding comes from Michigan State University researchers, who followed the lives of thousands of older Americans for six years.

They concluded that Internet use by elderly people can reduce the risk of depression by more than 30 percent.

 “That’s a very strong effect,” said project leader Shelia Cotten, an MSU professor of telecommunication, information studies and media. “And it all has to do with older persons being able to communicate, to stay in contact with their social networks, and just not feel lonely.”

Cotten and her colleagues analyzed data from the Health and Retirement Survey, a survey collecting information from more than 22,000 older Americans every two years. This particular sample included more than 3,000 respondents.

Other smaller studies have been inconclusive about the role Internet use in overcoming depression. This latest study, however, took into consideration the subjects’ depression levels before they began using the Internet..

They found that some people did remain depressed despite Internet use, the level of depression wasn’t substantial. “Internet use continues to reduce depression, even when controlling for that prior depressive state,” Cotten said.

But smart use of the Internet is also important, the researchers said.

 “If you sit in front of a computer all day, ignoring the roles you have in life and the things you need to accomplish as part of your daily life, then it’s going to have a negative impact on you,” Cotten said. “But if you’re using it in moderation and you’re doing things that enhance your life, then the impacts are likely to be positive in terms of health and well-being.”

The research was published in the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences.

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