Can the Internet Prevent Dementia in Seniors?

Can the Internet Prevent Dementia in Seniors?

How many times have you seen a young adult on their phone and wondered if they ever put it down? Maybe you’ve gone to a restaurant and spotted a large family sitting around a table, all silent because each member is looking at something on their electronic device. Or maybe you’ve encountered someone who loses all track of time and conversation as they sit in front of a laptop, surfing the internet.

Seeing these things can make it seem as though technology is a barrier to human connection. But technology can also be used to keep families together. Video chat, social media, and other forms of communication are facilitated by the very same internet connection.

But did you know that using the internet could actually help seniors stave off dementia, which in turn gives elderly adults more precious time with the family and friends they love the most?

Regular Internet Users Have a Lower Incidence of Dementia

A long-term study recently published in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that those over the age of 50 who used the internet regularly had about half the risk of dementia that occasional users had.1

Starting in 2002, scientists followed over 18,000 people who were between the ages of 50 and 65 when the study was launched. The participants engaged in mental health assessments and were then interviewed every two years after that.

One of the interview questions was about internet usage. Specifically, the study asked this question: “Do you regularly use the World Wide Web, or Internet, for sending and receiving email or for any other purpose, such as making purchases, searching for information or making travel reservations?”

Those who responded with “yes” were deemed regular users and those who responded with “no” were deemed non-regular users. At the start of the study, about two out of every three participants were considered regular internet users.

In 2013, a sample of those participants were asked to detail their internet usage. They were asked how often they went online to do all sorts of activities, including socializing, searching, emailing, or shopping. To weed out those who simply used the web for streaming services, time spent watching movies or television shows was excluded from the questions.

The results were heartening!

After tracking the risk of dementia among participants for 17 years, just under 5% of those who were regular users had developed dementia and more than 87% of the participants remained mentally sharp. About 8% of users died before they completed the study.

After factoring in other variables and crunching the numbers, the study authors found that 10% of those who were non-regular internet users were at risk for developing dementia, while only 1.5% of regular internet users showed the same risk. These risks were the same regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or education level.

Other Interesting Findings about Seniors and Internet Usage

The study reported a few other significant findings. As individuals in the study aged, their internet usage tended to change. About one in every five participants changed their habits over the course of the study; about 13% of those who claimed they were regular users at the start of the study later reported a significant decline in internet use. But at the same time, just over one-third of the participants who were not initially regular users started using the internet more during the study.

The change wasn’t enough to affect the outcome of the study, but it did suggest that life events could change a person’s internet usage. For instance, those who retired during that time might have started using the internet more because they had more time on their hands. But perhaps those who suffered from some sort of medical issue, such as problems with eyesight, might have stopped using the internet as often. The study didn’t account for why the participants’ use switched over the years.

How much seniors use the internet seems to matter, too.

When the researchers looked at the data on hourly usage, they found something surprising: those who were never online had a higher risk of dementia, but so did those who used the internet between six and eight hours per day.

That suggests that while not using the internet at all can lead to a greater dementia risk, using it too much can also lead to the same problem. While it’s well-established that keeping the brain engaged through games and other activities can help keep your mind sharp, it seems that too much of a good thing is possible when it comes to surfing the web.

It’s a sure bet that seniors who use the internet can certainly use a fall alert. These senior life-saving alert systems can provide 24/7 protection in the event of an emergency. There are few things in life more valuable than peace of mind.

Using the Internet to Reduce the Risk of Cognitive Decline

Exploring the internet on a regular basis can work wonders for the brain. Navigating to a variety of websites helps build through-processing, memory, language understanding, and better communication. It might also have the added bonus of improving hand-eye coordination, especially if you use the internet to play games.

You can learn a great deal about whatever interests you by researching it on the internet. That’s a form of education, and as numerous studies have shown, lifelong learners tend to have a lower risk of cognitive decline than those who don’t push their brains to learn new things.

There are other ways to improve cognitive ability that go beyond using the computer.

Get Active!

Engage in healthy exercise that gets the blood flowing. Remember that this blood flow not only feeds your muscles and the other tissues of your body, but also provides your brain with much-needed oxygen, which can enhance your ability to think clearly.

Though you are out exercising, you should carry a bit of technology with you. What’s that about? Medical alert systems for seniors can be worn on a pendant around your neck, on a belt clip, or on your wrist. They are shower-proof, can stand up to your exercise routine, and allow you to get help at the touch of a button. Keep one of these button alarms with you at all times to ensure that in any circumstance and at any time, you can get help right away.

Get Plenty of Sleep

During sleep, our bodies repair themselves. That repair also happens in the brain. MEDtube Science points out that getting less than seven hours of sleep each night can impair cognitive and behavioral function.2 Other studies have shown that sleep allows the brain to rid itself of the toxins that are associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Getting enough sleep is a boost for every bodily function, including brain health.

Be Good to Your Heart

Take good care of your heart to enhance blood flow and prevent cardiac events. A cardiac event, such as a heart attack or stroke, can have a direct impact on the functioning of your brain. The same is true for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or other chronic conditions that affect the heart. By keeping these chronic conditions under control, you can prevent many problems that might develop in the brain, including cognitive decline.

Learn Something New

The advantage of being a life-long learner has already been mentioned, but it deserves repeating. As you learn, your brain is creating new pathways to transmit the information. This happens when you read a book, play a musical instrument, learn a new language, and yes – when you research and read articles on the internet. Find something that interests you and dive into it, not only for your own enjoyment, but for the cognitive advantages it provides.

Consider the MIND Diet

“MIND” stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurological Delay. This diet is a blend of the popular Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, and was specifically created to boost brain health. Studies have shown that this diet has robust promise in slowing cognitive decline.3

Use a Personal Emergency Response System

Finally, do what you can to keep your health in the best possible shape. That means staying active but also staying safe and secure. The use of an emergency alert system can work wonders for peace of mind. If you suffer from a fall, accident, or other medical emergency, simply press a button and reach live, trained professionals at a 24/7 monitoring center who are standing by to help you.

And remember, getting quick assistance during an emergency can increase the chances of a better medical outcome – which in turn helps protect senior brain health.