We all joke about how much the internet is damaging our mental health, but some folks earnestly believe that logging on each day could be causing dementia. According to Futurism, researchers at NYU’s School of Global Public Health decided to put this theory to the test, and their findings may surprise you. When it comes to older internet users (a group more likely to develop dementia in the first place), it turns out that “that moderate and regular internet use seems to be cognitively helpful to older folks.”
No one knows the impact of the internet on humans, but according to one study, among older users aged 50-65, there was a 1.54 percent risk of developing dementia.
The internet is still relatively new to the public, and the researchers realized that there isn’t much research out there about the cognitive effects (including dementia) that regular internet use could have on an aging population. This is especially true of long-term studies, which is why the team conducted a study involving 20,000 users aged 50-65 that lasted for seventeen years. While previous studies had functionally assumed that regular internet use would have negative cognitive effects such as dementia (be honest, this would explain your weirder relatives’ even weirder Facebook posts), this new study approached the topic with a more open mind.
This open-minded approach ended up paying off: when analyzing the data, the researchers realized that participants who actively engaged with the internet had a “1.54 percent risk of developing dementia.” That’s a very low percentage, especially compared with the risks to those who aren’t regular internet users. The researchers found that “non-users seemed to have a whopping 10.45 percent risk.”
Another approach the researchers took with the data was to study how long it took regular internet users to develop dementia compared to non-users. Once again, regular internet use seemed beneficial, with the team discovering that active older users were half as likely to develop dementia. While this is generally good news, the team also made another discovery that may have you thinking twice about always being online during your golden years.
Regular internet use, as contradictory as it may seem, helps prevent dementia, with non-internet users reporting a 10.45 risk of developing the disease.
Specifically, the researchers discovered that those who were heavy users of the internet (which was defined by them spending more than two hours a day online) were actually more likely to develop dementia. For older users who are hoping that internet use can stave off their own odds of developing dementia, it looks like the key (as always) is moderation. Of course, other experts are quick to point out the need for further research as well as the need for the rest of us not to jump to any conclusions.
That’s because there may be a “chicken and the egg” dilemma behind discovering the full relationship between internet use and dementia among older adults. For example, the Alzheimer’s Association’s Claire Sexton points out that regular internet use may be cognitively stimulating, which is why a moderate amount of it each day can help stave off cognitive effects such as dementia in older users. But the answer could be as simple as regular internet use being more attractive to those who were already at a lower risk of developing dementia in the first place.
…the Alzheimer’s Association’s Claire Sexton points out that regular internet use may be cognitively stimulating, which is why a moderate amount of it each day can help stave off cognitive effects such as dementia in older users.
With any luck, further research will clarify things and help put the debate to rest once and for all. In the meantime, it may be useful for younger users to take stock of their own internet use and to reduce it as needed. Sure, those haters on X (formerly Twitter) may be trying to drive you crazy, but if you spend all day online typing angry posts in their general direction, you might end up doing more harm than they ever did by increasing your own risks of dementia as you enter old age.