Americans over the age of 65 dealing with late-life depression not only run the risk of suicide but also certain health complications and cognitive decline. A study published by the Gerontological Society of America has revealed that older people in the United States who engage in regular Internet use are less likely to deal with bouts of depression.

“Retired persons are a population of interest, particularly because one mechanism by which Internet use may affect depression is to counter the effects of isolation and loneliness, which are more common among older adults,” the authors said in a statement. “Also, working individuals may be required to use the Internet rather than choosing to, and may use the technology for different reasons than those not working.”

Researchers involved with the study utilized data from the Health and Retirement Study including a survey of over 22,000 older Americans. The study’s sample included 3,075 respondents living in an elder community between 2002 and 2008. The Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale was used to measure each retiree’s level of depression.

To gauge their Internet use, each retiree participating in the survey was also asked, “Do you regularly use the World Wide Web, or the Internet, for sending and receiving e-mail or for any other purpose?” The predicted probability of depression for Internet users was measured at 0.07 compared to nonusers at 0.105. Retirees who cited regular Internet use reduced their probability of depression by 33 percent.

“Number of people in the household partially mediates this relationship, with the reduction in depression largest for people living alone,” the authors added. “This provides some evidence that the mechanism linking Internet use to depression is the remediation of social isolation and loneliness. Encouraging older adults to use the Internet may help decrease isolation, loneliness, and depression.”

According to the National Alliance on Medical Illness, there are currently over 6.5 million Americans over the age of 65 dealing with depression. Depression in older people tends to go untreated because symptoms are often mistaken as signs of dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, cancer, Parkinson’s, or stroke. These symptoms include confusion, social withdrawal, weight loss, lack of sleep, irritability, and memory loss. 

 

Source: Cotten S, Ford G, Ford S, Hale T. Internet Use and Depression Among Retired Older Adults in the United States: A Longitudinal Analysis. The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences. 2014.