For the elderlyfinding the sweet spot in terms of screen time could help reduce their risk of dementia, according to a recent study from New York University’s School of Global Public Health.
Among adults aged 50 to 64.9, regular internet users may have a lower risk of dementia compared to non-regular users, the researchers found.
“We found that regular users had about half the risk of dementia compared to non-regular users,” noted lead author Gawon Cho, PhD candidate from the School of Global Public Health at NYU.
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Longer periods of regular internet use in late adulthood also reduced the risk of later incidence of dementia.
“This finding on period of use is important because it suggests that changes in Internet use in older adults affect cognitive health, although some may argue that old age is too late to intervene.” , Cho told Fox News Digital.
However, it seems that excessive Internet use can have the opposite effect.
“While regular use may be helpful, it should be noted that we also found that excessive Internet use was associated with an increased risk of dementia in older adults,” Cho explained.
To calculate these results, the researchers analyzed 17 years of data for 18,154 adults without dementia between the ages of 50 and 64.9, comparing the rate of development of dementia to basic Internet use.
“If we challenge the brain, we can keep neural pathways healthy and stronger for longer.”
The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, was conducted between September 2021 and November 2022.
“Without a cure for dementia, prevention and risk reduction are important, which motivated us to study this topic,” Cho said.
‘Use it or lose it’
Dr. Sandi Petersen, Senior Vice President of Health and Wellness at Pegasus Senior living in Dallas, Texasis a gerontologist who directs health care services for Pegasus.
She was not surprised to find that regular internet use could reduce the risk of dementia because it encourages cognitive engagement and promotes communication and learning.
“We know from the principles of neuroplasticity that if we challenge the brain, we can keep neural pathways healthy and stronger longer, even in the presence of neurocognitive disorders like dementia,” she told Fox. NewsDigital.
Using the internet not only requires “brain power”, but also physical dexterity, she pointed out, as older people have to navigate using a keyboard and mouse or of a touch screen.
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“Combining mental challenges with small motor movements on the bilateral sides of the body increases the efficiency of neural pathways,” Petersen said. “The old adage of ‘use it or lose it’ holds true to some degree.
Engaging online can also have social and emotional benefits, which is especially important for older people who may feel lonely and have limited mobility due to age or illness.
“Without a cure for dementia, prevention and risk reduction are important.”
“Interaction with information and with other people plays an important role in fight against isolation that a lot of older people experience as they get older,” Petersen explained.
“The computer makes it possible to engage with loved ones via video chats, for example, even if the older person is mobility impaired.”
In a 2020 study by Dr. Gary Small of Los Angeles, 24 adults were monitored while they used the internet.
The most experienced Internet users showed twice as much activity in areas of the brain that control decision-making and complex reasoning as those who were new to the Internet.
Going online as a “cognitive exercise”
The study findings support the idea that online engagement can build and maintain “cognitive reserve,” which can offset brain aging and reduce dementia risk, Cho said.
“People who don’t use the Internet regularly may try doing it as a cognitive exercise, just as they would engage in other activities suggested to improve cognitive health, such as learning a new technique, playing a new game, or read a new book,” he said.
The results won’t show up right away, said Dr. James Pratty, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California Riverside School of Medicine.
“The changes aren’t an overnight process, and they won’t be visible in two or three months,” he told Fox News Digital.
“It requires a daily commitment to bring what could be significant cognitive changes and brain protection, especially in a time when we are all living longer.”
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Avoid any interruption of sleepPetersen recommends that seniors do most of their internet engagement during the day.
“While light of any kind can suppress melatonin secretion, blue light at night — which is emitted by computers, tablets, and smartphones — does so more powerfully,” she told Fox News Digital. .
“So, especially for older people who may have trouble sleeping, it may be important to limit internet use at night.”
“People need to stay engaged in life no matter what it looks like for them.”
Sitting too long is another potential danger of excessive internet use, Peterson noted.
During computer sessions, she recommends seniors get up and move every hour or two to give their brains and bodies a break.
The study had limitations, but experts say the results make sense
The study was a small sample, Petersen noted — “and, certainly, one study doesn’t mean it’s strong evidence for practice.”
Cho also said the findings “are not strictly causal.”
The study, however, shows that people who used the internet regularly had about half the risk of dementia as non-regular users after adjusting for various risk factors and the likelihood of using the internet regularly.
“The principles make sense and underscore what we’ve always known: people should stay engaged in life no matter what,” Petersen said.
“The internet is definitely one of the many ways to foster engagement and connection among older adults.”
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Based on the benefits – both cognitive and social – Petersen recommends the Internet as a tool for older people, especially those who cannot connect in any other way.
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Looking ahead, Cho noted the need for further research in this area, particularly on “effective ways to use online engagement to increase the cognitively healthy lifespan of older adults, while being mindful of the potential side effects of overuse,” he said.