Can the internet give you dementia?

3 minute read

You won’t believe what these researchers have discovered!

Your Back Page correspondent has a reasonably phlegmatic attitude to the inevitable challenges of the ageing process.

However, the one condition that does present as a truly terrifying prospect is that of dementia. Like many boomers, we have an elderly parent thus afflicted and at times it can be a desperately unpleasant disorder to deal with.   

So it is with considerable self-interest that we report on new research published in the August edition of theJournal of the American Geriatrics Society thatexamined the role that internet usage played in the likelihood of developing dementia.

If your first reaction to that sentence was: “Yikes! I use the internet heaps, am I increasing my risk of developing this disease?” then we have some good news for you. Relax. Moderate and regular internet use seems to be cognitively helpful for older folks, according to the boffins at NYU’s School of Global Public Health.

The researchers say they were inspired to do their study by the dearth of research on the “long-term cognitive impact of internet usage among older adults”, especially with most of what is out there focusing on the negative impacts of internet use rather than potential positives.

By “negative impacts” we suspect they mean older folks falling prey to internet scamsters, clickbait hucksters and conspiracy theorists, or possibly their tendency to share those cringeworthy life-affirming memes on how cool it is to be a grandparent.  

The researchers followed the healthcare outcomes of about 20,000 dementia-free adults between the ages of 50 and 65 for up to 17 years using a longitudinal survey called the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study.

Every two years between 2002 and 2018, the Michigan study’s coordinators asked participants if they “regularly” used the internet and, if so, how much they used it.

Of those participants who were active users (about 65%) the authors found there was a 1.54% risk of developing dementia, whereas non-users seemed to have a 10.45% risk, and that regular internet users were only half as likely to develop a cognitive disorder than their non-using counterparts.

On the downside, there also appeared to be a correlation between using the internet too much and developing dementia as well, with the risk seeming to increase in those who used it for more than two hours per day.

“Among older adults, regular internet users may experience a lower risk of dementia compared to non?regular users, and longer periods of regular internet usage in late adulthood may help reduce the risks of subsequent dementia incidence,” NYU researcher Gawon Cho told media.

“Nonetheless, using the internet excessively daily may negatively affect the risk of dementia in older adults.”

Of course, we are only talking correlations here, not causations. It could well be that folks with a lower risk of dementia are also more likely to be the types who engage with social media and the internet.

So more research is needed.

In the meantime, like alcohol consumption and binge-watching Inspector Morse episodes, moderation is probably a helpful marbles-retention strategy. 

That, and avoiding Truth Social at all costs.

Send story tips and cringeworthy life-affirming grandparenting memes to

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