Older adults who used internet in lockdown reported lower depression

Older adults who used the internet just ONCE a day during lockdown reported lower depression and a better quality of life

  • Scientists surveyed 3,491 older people in summer 2020 about their internet use
  • Those who used the internet to communicate had lower levels of depression
  • But those who used the internet to look up health-related information reported higher levels of depression

It’s often associated with younger people, but a new study suggests that the internet may also offer important mental health benefits for older adults.

Researchers found that among people aged 55 to 75, those who used the internet once or more a day during lockdown to communicate with loved ones reported lower depression and a higher quality of life.

The team hopes the findings will encourage older people to use the internet more often, especially given the fact that the older demographic is particularly vulnerable to loneliness.

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It’s often associated with younger people, but a new study suggests that the internet may also offer important mental health benefits for older adults (stock image)

WHAT IS DEPRESSION?

While it is normal to feel down from time to time, people with depression may feel persistently unhappy for weeks or months on end.

Depression can affect anyone at any age and is fairly common – approximately one in ten people are likely to experience it at some point in their life. 

Depression is a genuine health condition which people cannot just ignore or ‘snap out of it’.

Symptoms and effects vary, but can include constantly feeling upset or hopeless, or losing interest in things you used to enjoy.

It can also cause physical symptoms such as problems sleeping, tiredness, having a low appetite or sex drive, and even feeling physical pain.

In extreme cases it can lead to suicidal thoughts.

Traumatic events can trigger it, and people with a family history may be more at risk.

It is important to see a doctor if you think you or someone you know has depression, as it can be managed with lifestyle changes, therapy or medication. 

Source: NHS Choices 

In the study, researchers from the University of Surrey surveyed 3,491 people in summer 2020, while social distancing measures were still in place across the UK.

Participants were surveyed on the frequency and type of their internet usage, as well as their mental health.

The results revealed that participants who reported using the internet once or more a day had much lower levels of depression symptoms, and reported higher quality of life.

In particular, those who said they used the internet to communicate with loved ones saw the most beneficial effects.

According to the team, this suggests that going online to stay connected helped combat the negative psychological effects of social distancing and lockdown in older adults.

Dr Simon Evans, a lecturer in Neuroscience at the University of Surrey, and lead author of the study, said: ‘As social restrictions continue during the Covid-19 pandemic, older people are at greater risk of loneliness and mental health issues.

‘We found that older adults who used the internet more frequently under lockdown, particularly to communicate with others, had lower depression scores and an enhanced quality of life.’

Conversely, the results showed that people who mostly used the intenet to search for health-related information reported higher levels of depression.

This may be due to a greater degree of worry triggered by reading about Covid-19, according to the team.

Dr Evans added: ‘As the Covid-19 situation evolves, more frequent internet use could benefit the mental health of older people by reducing loneliness and risk of depression, particular if further lockdowns are imposed in the future.’  

The results showed that people who mostly used the intenet to search for health-related information reported higher levels of depression (stock image)

Recent data released by the Office of National Statistics revealed that while almost all adults aged 16 to 44 years in the UK were recent internet users (99 per cent), just 54 per cent of adults aged 75 years and over said they regularly use the internet. 

However, the good news is that the number of older internet users does appear to be rising. 

ONS said: ‘While there has been little change in internet use for adults aged 16 to 44 years in recent years, the proportion of those aged 75 years and over who are recent internet users nearly doubled since 2013, from 29 per cent per cent, to 54 per cent in 2020.’ 

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