Scientists have found that moderate and regular internet usage might appear to have cognitive benefits for older individuals.
The study, published in the August edition of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, found that, in fact, prolonged internet usage in late adulthood was correlated with a delay in cognitive impairment.
However, the authors of the paper from NYU’s School of Global Public Health said that “more research is required to ascertain potential negative consequences of excessive use”.
The researchers tracked adults aged between 50 to 65 years who were free from dementia for a little over 17 years, using the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study, a longitudinal survey that contains information about 20,000 older American adults.
The paper said that between 2002 and 2018, the coordinators of the Michigan study surveyed participants every two years, inquiring whether they engaged in “regular” internet usage and, if so, quantifying the extent of their internet usage.
They received varied responses with 65 per cent of responders saying that they were regular internet users, and 21 per cent reported significant changes in their internet usage habits throughout their participation in the study. Some of the participants either passed away or developed dementia during the study period.
The study found that “regular internet usage was associated with approximately half the risk of dementia compared to non-regular usage”.
Among the participants who were active users, the new study’s authors identified a 1.54 per cent risk of developing dementia, whereas non-users appeared to have a significantly higher risk of 10.45 per cent.
However, the researchers pointed out a caveat. There appeared to be a correlation between excessive internet usage and the development of dementia as well.
The risk seemed to rise among those who used the internet for more than two hours per day.
One of the researchers, Gawon Cho, told Medscape Medical News: “Among older adults, regular internet users may experience a lower risk of dementia compared to nonâregular users, and longer periods of regular internet usage in late adulthood may help reduce the risks of subsequent dementia incidence.”
“Nonetheless, using the internet excessively daily may negatively affect the risk of dementia in older adults.”
The study mentions that “the lowest risk was observed among adults with 0.1–2 hours of usage, though estimates were non-significant due to small sample sizes”.