Depression, seniors and the internet

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Depression, seniors and the internet

Posted on November 3, 2009

The internet as we know it has been around since 1994. Yet 15 years later, while 79% of the general population reports using the Internet, only 42% of those 65 and older indicate use.

Why, should the senior care industry and the technology industry care about this?
It is now widely known that Internet use has a stimulating effects on the brains of seniors, even more so than reading a book . The new debate is, can the Internet prevent depression amongst seniors?

According to George Ford, PhD of the Phoenix Center, “Internet use contributes positively to mental well-being, and estimates indicate that Internet use leads to about a 20% reduction in depression classification.” His policy paper titled Internet Use and Depression Among the Elderly has sampled 7,000 non-working retired persons. Dr. Ford explains the reason for researching this topic and delves into the costs of depression. Currently, healthcare costs related to depression run up to $100 billion annually; direct medical costs and suicides total up to 38% of those costs. The senior population is one of the population that is the most affected by depression as late-life depression affects about six million Americans age 65 and older.

In the next 30 years, the 65+ population will double and as this population ages, it is increasingly faced with isolation, loneliness, boredom and depression due to a disconnect with family, friends and the rest of the world. Mobility, visual, hearing and motor impairments affect our seniors and increasingly challenge what they have been used to because access is so limited. The elderly population living in senior communities has been increasing 7% annually for the 15 years. It becomes harder for this ever growing population to visit friends, pick up a book to the library, buy a book from the bookstore, listen to classical music in a concert hall or watch a movie at the theater.

The internet is a mean to an end, the goal is not to just get online. It enhances communication and is simply one of the greatest resource of information if not the greatest. The internet is a tool and just like any other tool, it can be very beneficial if used appropriately. Some people will argue that spending time online can further one’s isolation. On the other side of the coin however, the internet can allow our lonely seniors connect themselves, call their children who are far away from them, keep up with the news, see pictures of their newborn grandchild, learn new languages, listen to great music and even visit museums virtually. The Web has shortened the distances between people, tracing virtual paths which connects billions of people with a simple finger movement, an arm gesture or just a thought. Online activities are unlimited and innovators are inventing new ones everyday.

The World Wide Web has been around 15 years. Today, websites and emails are ubiquitous and almost all industries have moved online: banking and finances, radio and music, tv, movies, job searching, shopping, social communities and even health to name a few. Some resources have even moved online exclusively. Currently, 77% of Fortune 500 companies only accept job application online. Last month, in a bold but certainly precursory move, the government of Finland has passed a law making broadband internet access a legal right. Just like we couldn’t imagine living without water, electricity or gas today, we will all say that we can’t live without the internet in the few years to come. Our society is changing and the internet is part of this change. It’s here to stay. In the past 15 years, the world has been running cables all over the earth’s land, throughout its seas and oceans; it has even launched satellites into space to spread online access. The internet runs up to our doorsteps and in our airwaves. The internet is everywhere, in the ground, in the air; now more than ever, it has even slipped inside our pockets with the use of smart phones. This large web of connections seems like the perfect fit for a population with limited mobility and in such a need of stimulation and things to do.

The internet can stimulate seniors’ brain more than a book does and can alleviate depression. Its benefits are obvious. So the question now is, why aren’t seniors using the internet more? We will attempt to answer this question in our next blog post. Stay tuned!