Can Seniors Fight Depression By Going on the Internet?

According to the Geriatric Mental Health Foundation, more than 6 million Americans older than 65 experience feelings of persistent sadness, hopelessness and lack of energy. Two million of these seniors have been diagnosed with a severe depressive illness.

Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, resulting from illness, a loss or accumulated losses, chronic pain, the side effects of medication and other causes. You might be surprised to know that retirement can be the trigger event for depression. Even though most of us look forward to having our days to ourselves, with more time to do the things we want to do, retirement may create a “vocation gap” that leaves some retirees without a feeling of purpose and a place in the world. Retirement may also mean the loss of an important social context.

It’s important to seek treatment for depression. Treatment might include medications and therapy. But often, lifestyle changes provide a powerful mood boost. These include everything from exercise to volunteering to watching humorous TV programs. And over the past few years, several studies have shown that internet use can be an effective tool for reducing feelings of boredom and isolation.

This was confirmed recently when a team of researchers headed by Shelia R. Cotton, Ph.D., from Michigan State University examined results from the large Health and Retirement Study, an ongoing survey that provides data on more than 22,000 older Americans. As reported by the Gerontological Society of America, the team asked study subjects: “Do you regularly use the World Wide Web, or the internet, for sending and receiving email or for any other purpose?”

The results showed that the internet users had a 33 percent reduction in the probability of depression. Said the study authors, “This provides some evidence that the mechanism linking internet use to depression is the remediation of social isolation and loneliness. Encouraging older adults to use the internet may help decrease isolation, loneliness, and depression.”

Online socialization is a great way to supplement and increase “real life” friendships. Surfing the Web provides mental stimulation and helps seniors feel informed and connected. Something as small as watching a few cat videos—and sharing them on Facebook—can raise the spirits. And today, many young people who were raised with the internet are providing their older relatives with a little intergenerational tech support. If you or an older loved one is experiencing depression and isolation, check out the resources in your community to help seniors learn to use computers and connect with others online.

Read more about the study here.

Copyright © IlluminAge AgeWise, 2014; with excerpts from news release from the Gerontological Society of America.