Are you someone who worries that all of that online screen time is turning your memory to mush?
Well, we’ve got some good news.
Whether it’s emailing an old friend or researching a travel destination you’ve been daydreaming about, a new study suggests that routine internet use may offer some surprising brain health benefits, including lowering your dementia risk.
Here’s the story…
How to prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
There are a number of ways to reduce your risk of dementia. The most important is your lifestyle.
Research shows you can avoid cognitive decline by eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and healthy oils such as olive and coconut oils. It’s also important to avoid processed foods– especially the sugary kind– and to avoid drinking too much alcohol.
Finally, stay physically active and maintain a healthy weight. None of these should come as any surprise to regular readers of this newsletter, but now you can add another, more surprising recommendation to the list: Start surfing the web.
That’s right, it turns out that daily internet use by older adults is associated with dramatically reducing your risk of developing dementia, when compared with those who spurn online activities.
Web surfing: A healthy lifestyle choice that reduces your dementia risk
These findings echo past research which reveals that engaging in mentally stimulating computer activities, such as video games, protects brain health and may slow the onset of dementia.
This newest study takes a closer look at the long-term cognitive benefits of regular internet use.
Analyzing the data gleaned from the massive University of Michigan Retirement Study, the researchers homed in on 18,154 adults ages 50 to 65. None of the participants had dementia when the study period began.
Everyone had been asked if they regularly used the internet for any purpose. About two-thirds of the group used the internet, while a third did not. The researchers followed the large group for an average of eight years.
What did they discover? The results were dramatically in favor of internet use. In fact…
Internet users cut dementia risk in half
People who regularly surfed the web at the start of the study had about half the risk of dementia compared with those who weren’t regular users.
Study author Dr. Virginia W. Chang and her team based the study on earlier research that pointed to the potential brain health benefits for older adults who used the internet. Dr. Chang offers some further insight, saying, “Online engagement may help to develop and maintain cognitive reserve, which can in turn compensate for brain aging and reduce the risk of dementia.”
We’ve talked about cognitive reserve in the past.
Cognitive reserve is described as the ability of certain brains to better cope with damage due to the size of the brain or the unique interactions among neurons. Researchers put it this way: “There can be individual differences in how tasks are processed that can allow some people to cope better than others with brain changes in general and aging in particular.”
What’s more, there’s significant scientific evidence that cognitive reserve helps people stave off the symptoms of memory loss and poor cognitive function from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
It’s never too late to save brain health
Another member of the internet usage research team said the findings prove that your choices matter when it comes to maintaining brain health, no matter what your age.
“This finding on the period of use is important because it suggests that changes in internet usage in old age matter in cognitive health – although some may contend old age is too late to intervene,” notes Gawon Cho, a Ph.D. candidate who worked on the study.
The question is, how much internet is too much?
This much web surfing promotes brain health
Researchers culled the survey data, and an internet usage sweet spot emerged. They discovered that those who hopped on the internet for about two hours or less daily had the lowest risk of dementia compared to those who avoided the internet altogether.
And it’s not just surfing the internet that can promote brain health, so can increasing positive social interactions online. In fact, a U.S. Surgeon General report suggests that catching up with that college buddy online can deliver beneficial social interaction in “our epidemic of loneliness and isolation” that results in better overall health.
Additionally, the internet is rich with educational opportunities, and many are free. You can take that class in World History, learn a new language, or even visit an art museum virtually.
More research is on the way
Because the internet is not going away anytime soon, researchers report that they’ll continue to dig into the world-wide web’s cognitive impact for older adults. The hope is to come up with an “internet prescription” that could help improve brain health and sharpen memory.
For instance, we’d be interested in what compels some older adults to spend excessive time fixated on a computer screen instead of getting out and engaging with their peers. Could they be depressed? Or socially isolated?
So, you might be wondering if this research give you a free pass to zone out on cat videos or mindlessly scroll through online shopping sites? No at all. While the research is encouraging we recommend that you make an effort to connect with people the old-fashioned way when possible– and that’s in person. If not, your computer will help bridge the gap.
The Awakening From Alzheimer’s Team