A study followed the lives of thousands of retired Americans for six years and found that Internet use among the elderly can reduce the chances of depression by more than 30 percent. Leader of the project, Shelia Cotten, a Michigan State University Professor of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media, said, “That’s a very strong effect. 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.”
This survey was one of the largest and most comprehensive surveys of its kind, Cotten said, collecting information from 22,000 older Americans for two years. The particular study used a sample of 3,000 respondents.
Previous smaller studies have not be able to identify the role Internet plays in overcoming depression. However, this study proved to be different in that it took into consideration depression levels before they started using the Internet since researchers wanted to know if past depression affected current depression.
Researchers found that people did remain depressed regardless of Internet use, although it wasn’t substantial. “Internet use continues to reduce depression, even when controlling for that prior depressive state,” Cotten said. What has been found in previous studies was also confirmed, that for older people who live alone, the Internet had a greater impact on levels of depression.
“This study makes significant contributions to the study of Internet use and depression in the older, retired population,” Cotten said. She noted that it all comes down to how you chose to use technology in your life. “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.”