Regular internet use may be linked to lower risk of dementia in older adults, says study | Cnn


If your parents or grandparents ask you how to post on Instagram or how to send a birthday message to a Facebook friend, a new study suggests you might want to help them not just to be nice, but because getting them online can help their brain health. mashed potato.

A study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society suggested that older people who use the Internet regularly are less likely to develop dementia.

The researchers saw this association after about eight years of monitoring 18,154 adults aged 50 to 65 who did not have dementia at the start of the study period.

The adults were part of the Health and Retirement Study, a multidisciplinary collection of data from a representative sample of people in the United States, collected by the National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration.

Each of the participants was asked a simple question: Do you regularly use the World Wide Web, or the Internet, to send and receive e-mails or for any other purpose, such as shopping, searching for information or making travel reservations?

People who used the Internet at the start of the study had about half the risk of dementia as people who were not regular users.

The researchers also looked at how often these adults were online, from zero to more than eight hours a day. Those who used the internet for about two hours or less a day had the lowest risk of dementia compared with those who didn’t use the internet, who had a significantly higher estimated risk.

The researchers noted that people who were online six to eight hours a day had a higher risk of dementia, but that finding wasn’t statistically significant, they said, and more research is needed.

Scientists don’t yet know what causes dementia, so new research can’t pinpoint the exact connection between internet use and brain health. Study co-author Dr. Virginia W. Chang has a few ideas.

Online engagement can help develop and maintain cognitive reserve, which in turn can offset brain aging and reduce dementia risk, said Chang, an associate professor of global public health in the New York School of Global Public Health. York University.

The study also didn’t look at what people were browsing online. While the internet is filled with cat videos and conspiracy theories, it can also be intellectually stimulating, and some studies have shown that intellectual stimulation can help prevent dementia. For example, a 2020 study found an association between cognitively challenging jobs and a lower risk of dementia.

As people get older, it’s natural for the brain’s processing speed to slow down a bit, and it might get harder to remember what’s in all those browser tabs open on your computer. But in a healthy brain, memory and routine knowledge remain fairly stable. People with dementia have problems with routine brain functions such as creating new memories, solving problems and completing normal tasks.

About 6.2 million people ages 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number is expected to grow exponentially as baby boomers age.

Overall, this is important research. It identifies another potentially modifiable factor that could influence dementia risk, said Dr. Claire Sexton, senior director of science and outreach programs at the Alzheimer’s Association, who was not involved in the new study. But we wouldn’t want to read too much into this study in isolation. It does not establish cause and effect.

Beyond medication, experts have been looking for ways to help people keep dementia at bay.

The Alzheimers Association is working on the US Pointer Study, a two-year clinical study to pinpoint exactly which lifestyle interventions can reduce a person’s risk of dementia.

Risk factors like family history and age can’t be changed, but scientists believe there are some healthy behaviors that can reduce the risk of this type of cognitive decline.

Lifestyle factors such as exercise, getting enough sleep, maintaining a healthy weight, keeping blood pressure in check, managing blood sugar, quitting smoking, and staying engaged with others can help. Browsing the Internet isn’t one of the official activities listed by the CDC, but the new study adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting that more research could better establish this connection.

The new research isn’t the first to find that using the Internet can help reduce cognitive decline. A 2020 study found only minor cognitive decline in male internet users. Others have not seen a gender difference.

In the latest study, the difference in risk between regular Internet users and those who did not use the Internet regularly did not vary according to gender, education level, race or ethnicity.

Some studies have also shown a benefit to computer training older adults and have suggested that the Internet can positively connect them to others and help them learn information or skills.

Research also suggests that most seniors use the internet more frequently for basic tasks such as email, news or online banking. But a growing number are learning about new social platforms like BeReal or dancing and singing on TikTok. And learning new skills may be protective against dementia, studies suggest.

Seniors’ use of social networking sites can also increase their connections with other people and reduce isolation. Some studies have shown that older people who were alone were three times more likely to develop dementia than those who said they felt socially connected to others.

We need more evidence, not just from observational studies like this one but also from interventional studies, Sexton said. In this way, doctors could one day treat people with dementia as they do with heart disease: by suggesting lifestyle changes in addition to medications.

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