Healthcare Technology Featured Article

October 15, 2009

Healthcare Technology and News: Phoenix Center Report Says Internet Cuts Depression for Elderly

According to a new report, senior citizens – especially those facing any form of depression – may have a new cure that doesn’t involve prescriptions, therapy or support groups. 

The Phoenix Center, a non-profit organization that studies broad public-policy issues, announced that its newest Policy Paper titled, “Internet Use and Depression Among the Elderly,” shows that spending time online reduces depression by 20 percent for senior citizens. 

Not only could this new research improve the quality of life for the elderly, but the report also said that reducing the incidence of depression by Internet use among the elderly could potentially trim the nation’s healthcare bill. 

According to Sherry G. Ford, associate professor of Communications Studies at University of Montevallo in Alabama, Phoenix Center Visiting scholar and co-author of study, maintaining relationships with friends and family at a time in life when mobility becomes increasingly limited is challenging for the elderly.

However, with email, Skype, instant message and even social media sites like Facebook, the elderly can find ways to communicate and keep in touch.

“Increased Internet access and use by senior citizens enables them to connect with sources of social support when face-to-face interaction becomes more difficult,” Ford said. 

The report examined 7,000 retired senior citizens over 55 in the United States, with data provided by the Health and Retirement Study of the University of Michigan and screened to exclude respondents who were still working and also those living in nursing homes in order to limit possible variations that might skew the findings.

Phoenix Center President Lawrence W. Spiwak said that this report is the most advanced statistical analysis on the social impacts of broadband to date, and the most believable. 

With an estimated 42 percent of Americans aged 65 or older using the Internet – according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project – senior citizens using the Internet stop the depression rates from dropping, while keeping their lives and relationships in tact no matter how physically able they may or may not be. 

The study also reported that, with billions spent annually on depression-related health care costs, the positive increase in the lives of the elderly using the Internet pose possible economic savings. 

“Efforts to expand broadband use in the U.S. must eventually tackle the problem of low adoption in the elderly population,” Phoenix Center Chief economist and study co-author George S. Ford, said. “The positive mental health consequences of Internet demonstrate, in part, the value of demand stimulus programs aimed at older Americans.”

Kelly McGuire is a HealthTechZone Editor. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Kelly McGuire

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