Depression is one of the major mental health concerns among the elderly. Around 7% of the world’s senior population is affected by depression due to varying factors. But depression isn’t – and shouldn’t – be a normal part of getting older.
There are a number of different causes of clinical depression among older people, but social isolation and loneliness are two big influences. Recent studies have shown, however, that access to the internet has had positive effects on the mental health of seniors.
The Impact of Internet Use on Depression Among Seniors
There are plenty of studies out there showing how increased social media use may cause an increase in negative emotions among people. However, studies have found the opposite effect to be true for seniors who use the internet to feel less isolated.
The reason for this difference may boil down to the way the elderly use the internet as well as the amount of time they spend on social media. People who spend a lot of time in front of the screen ignoring their other responsibilities will likely feel a negative impact on their mental health.
But the senior citizens who remarked a positive impact from the internet use practiced moderation. They also viewed the internet as something to use for positive gain instead of seeking out negative news or interactions.
One study suggests that online socialization may also weaken the link between chronic pain and depression. Part of this may be because the pain restricts their movement and limits their social opportunities. This study, with over 3400 participants, revealed that around half had experienced pain recently. The study found a correlation between a lower depression rate and social media among those who had experienced pain.
According to Shannon Ang, a co-author of the study, this is one of the first examinations of whether social media can help relieve some of the stress caused by pain.
A Lack of Accessibility Still Prohibits Many
Despite the positive results displayed by these studies, older people are still relatively uninformed about social media and the internet. Unfortunately, these studies didn’t take into account the social media platforms that participants used or for how long they stayed on. The Going Online to Stay Connected study did note, however, that only about 17% of participants had used social networks.
There seems to be a number of barriers to social media use among the elderly, including:
– Not seeing the worth in learning to use new technology
– Struggling to keep up with changing trends and platforms
– Fear of changing technology
– The embarrassment of asking for help or showing any ignorance
– The cost of electronic devices and the cost of data
These reasons, among what is likely more unidentified explanations, hold seniors back from taking advantage of the benefits of online socialization. More studies are also needed to determine the link between internet use and depression among the elderly. It’s commonly accepted that depression affects the elderly differently than younger people. For instance, depression among seniors is often associated with disabilities or other medical illnesses.
Education About Other Factors is Also Key
Educating the elderly about technology goes farther than showing them how to access and use social media. It should also include teaching them about cyber safety and which dangers they should look out for a while online.
Phishing is a very obvious threat, as the elderly tend to be more susceptible to online scams and phishing attempts. That problem, in itself, will take a lot of work to overcome as it’s a highly nuanced subject.
But it also requires teaching them about privacy as well as about the tools they should use to protect themselves. For example, password managers and VPN make great security tools for the elderly who need constant protection. VPNs are virtual private networks that encrypt people’s connections to keep snoopers and hackers out. This is particularly helpful for people who connect to public WiFi accounts, like at an assisted living facility.
Then there’s also the more common tools like anti-malware and anti-virus programs – that they should be taught to keep up to date. Most of these tools are easy to use and can run quietly in the background, so protection is always ensured.
Technology can be a double-edged blade, but when used correctly, it can provide many types of benefits. This applies to the elderly, especially, who generally have more time on their hands but also more social isolation due to various factors. Social media and other online platforms can be a great opportunity for them to stay connected, entertained, and active.