Seniors Who Use InternetBy George Lauer
Could Reap Health Benefits,
Could Reap Health Benefits,
iHealthBeat Features Editor
A couple of recent studies indicate elders are beginning to appreciate and embrace the health benefits of IT, a trend some predict will grow rapidly as the health industry gets up to speed with digital technology.
According to research released in October, spending time online reduces depression and increases cognitive brain function among senior citizens. A study conducted by Washington, D.C.-based Phoenix Center found that spending time online reduces depression by 20% for senior citizens.
Along with improvements in quality of life, researchers say reducing the incidence of depression by widespread Internet use among older Americans could help trim the nation's health care bill.
Meanwhile, researchers from Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California-Los Angeles found that surfing the Web for only a week stimulated areas of the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning in middle-aged and older adults with little Internet experience.
Tangible, measurable health benefits of technology, along with anecdotal evidence delivered word-of-mouth or through the media, will boost seniors' engagement, experts say.
David Lindeman, executive director of the Center for Technology and Aging, said when seniors begin seeing "real-life applications for health IT that actually improve their lives," barriers to technology go down and adoption goes up.
"When people see something that can actually improve their lives, they're going to seek it out and use it," Lindeman said.
"Five or 10 years ago, it may have been easy to say older adults were uncomfortable with some of the new technology, but that's changing on many levels. In addition to the issues of social connectedness and communication, you now have a whole new array of health benefits and those are about to expand with the possibilities of smart phones and mobile technology. That's going to be huge," Lindeman said.
Phoenix Center researchers said the implications of their findings are significant because depression affects millions of Americans aged 55 and older and costs about $100 million annually in direct medical and workplace costs.
The Pew Internet & American Life Project estimates 42% of Americans aged 65 and older use the Internet, significantly lower than rates of other age groups.
Because of the relatively low usage rates, researchers said the opportunity for better health outcomes from expanded Internet adoption among seniors is substantial.
"Efforts to expand broadband use in the U.S. must eventually tackle the problem of low adoption in the elderly population," George Ford, Phoenix Center chief economist and co-author of the study, said in a release accompanying the report.
"The positive mental health consequences of Internet [use] demonstrate, in part, the value of demand for stimulus programs aimed at older Americans," Ford added.