Internet Helps Reduce Senior Depression

by Lois Etienne on September 17, 2010

in Senior Health and Safety

Senior Mother with Boomer DaughterQuestion:  My 78-year-old widowed mother spends her days on the computer and I’m worried about her lack of companionship.  Should I be?

Here’s an interesting study:  Spending time online reduces depression by 20 percent for senior citizens, the Phoenix Center reports in a new Policy Paper released recently.  In addition to the quality of life benefits, reducing the cases of depression through widespread Internet use among older Americans could trim the nation’s health care bill.

“Maintaining relationships with friends and family at a time in life when mobility becomes increasingly limited is challenging for the elderly,” says Phoenix Center visiting scholar and study co-author Dr. Sherry G. Ford, an associate professor of Communications Studies at University of Montevallo in Alabama.  “Increased Internet access and use by senior citizens enables them to connect with sources of social support when face-to-face interaction becomes more difficult.”

The Policy Paper, Internet Use and Depression Among the Elderly, examines survey responses of 7,000 retired Americans 55 years or older.

The implications of the findings are significant because depression affects millions of Americans age 55 or older and costs the United States about $100 million annually in direct medical costs, suicide and mortality, and workplace costs.

A recent Nielsen study found that while people 65 and older still make up less than 10 percent of the active Internet universe, their numbers are on the rise. In the last five years, the number of seniors actively using the Internet has increased by more than 55 percent, from 11.3 million active users in November 2004 to 17.5 million in November 2009. Among people 65+, the growth of women in the last five years has outpaced the growth of men by 6 percentage points.

Not only are more people 65 and older heading online, but they are also spending more time on the Web. Time spent on the Internet by seniors increased 11 percent in the last five years, from approximately 52 hours per month in November 2004 to just over 58 hours in 2009.

“The over 65 crowd represents about 13% of the total population and with this increase in online usage, they are beginning to catch up with their offline numbers,” notes Chuck Schilling, research director, agency & media, Nielsen’s online division. “Looking at what they’re doing online, it makes sense they’re engaged in many of the same activities that dominate other age segments – e-mail, sharing photos, social networking, checking out the latest news and weather – and it’s worth noting that a good percentage of them are spending time with age-appropriate pursuits such as leisure travel, personal health care and financial concerns.”

Further, with billions spent annually on depression-related health care costs, the potential economic savings also are impressive.

But you’re right about your mother’s need for human contact as well.  While the Internet can help her keep in touch with family and friends living elsewhere, companions and friends whom she sees in person are vital for that personal touch.

That’s why you might want to suggest a caregiving companion to your mother.  Home Instead Senior Care hires seniors, many of whom are older adults, to be companions and home helpers for other seniors.  Efforts are made to match CAREGivers with similar interests to those of seniors.  What’s more, Home Instead CAREGivers are screened, trained, bonded and insured.

For more information or to get answers to your questions, please contact your local Home Instead Senior Care office.  We can be reached — anytime day or night – by calling Spokane509.835.5898North King/Snohomish Counties425.670.2292 or South King/Pierce Counties253.943.1603. You can also email us at loisetienne@homeinsteadnw.com

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