According to a new study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, the worldwide web has the exact opposite effect on older people than it does on everyone else.
If you’ve logged into any social media platform in the last four months, you most likely have contemplated murder, unless you’re over the age of 50. For this demographic, frequently surfing the web actually boosts well-being and decreases depressive symptoms–so long as they use it constructively.
Age, affluence, and education were additionally found to be relevant factors.
“There is uncertainty about the impact of internet use on mental health in older adults. Moreover, there is very little known specifically about the impact of particular purposes of internet use,” the authors wrote in the new paper. “This study aims to investigate the longitudinal relationship between two distinct concepts of mental health with the frequency of internet use among older adults: the moderating role of socioeconomic position (SEP) and the association between specific purposes of internet use.”
The pioneering study was comprised of 9,324 people over the age of 50, across a period of six years–specifically the years between 2012 and 2017.
Respondents were asked to gauge their levels of satisfaction with 5 signifying the lowest end of the spectrum, and 35 marking the highest levels of satisfaction.
Additionally, in a separate survey paired with the first before analysis, 0 indicated a healthy mental state while 8 signified intense levels of depression.
When the quinquagenarians involved in the study used the internet daily, their satisfaction levels remained high, and infrequent use (monthly or less) was consistently associated with deteriorating levels of life satisfaction.
Respondents who used the internet daily reported a median life satisfaction score of 26.12, compared to the 24.44 logged by those who used the internet monthly or less.
Those who surfed the web daily also demonstrated a lower average depression score of 1.02, compared to 1.76 for those who had never used the internet.
The most common contributors to these figures, at least according to the respondents, were ‘information access’ and ‘communication’, with 68% and 66% of participants reporting as much respectively.
Interestingly enough, those who used the internet to exclusively research things reported lower life satisfaction, compared to those who either used it for both research and communication or just communication.
According to the report, “policies to improve mental health in older adults should encourage internet use, especially as a tool to aid communication.” Education and occupational class had a moderating effect on the association between frequency of internet use and mental health,” the authors concluded. The associations were stronger in the highest educational group in both depression and life satisfaction and in the highest occupational group in life satisfaction only.
The authors have found that roughly 56% of the study group currently surf the web every day, and a little more than 25% reported never using the internet.
It stands to reason that maturity, higher educational backgrounds, and wealth have the most to gain from toxic digital arenas because they have the least to lose from an online interaction gone badly.
If nothing else, this study serves as a reminder of how far the internet has strayed from a magical entity rife with information and potential to the place you go to insult others while hiding behind your keyboard.
“Using the internet for communication was associated with lower depression and better life satisfaction, whereas those using the internet for information access had worse life satisfaction compared with those who did not,” the authors concluded.