Spending time online reduces depression by 20% for senior citizens, the Phoenix Center reports in a new Policy Paper released Oct. 15. In addition to the quality of life benefits, it says reducing the incidence of depression by Internet use among older Americans could trim the nation’s health care bill.

The Policy Paper, Internet Use and Depression Among the Elderly, examines survey responses of 7,000 retired Americans 55 years or older.

The data was 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. 

The implications of the findings, says Phoenix Center, are significant because depression affects millions Americans age 55 or older and costs the United States about $100 million annually in direct medical costs, suicide and mortality, and workplace costs. 

The Pew Internet & American Life Project estimates that only about 42% of Americans aged 65 or more use the Internet, far below the adoption rate of other age groups.

Given the relatively low adoption rates by seniors, the study concludes that the opportunity for better health outcomes from expanded Internet adoption is substantial.

Further, with billions spent annually on depression-related health care costs, the potential economic savings also are impressive. 

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

The Phoenix Center is a non-profit organization that studies broad public-policy issues related to governance, social and economic conditions, with emphasis on the law and economics of telecommunications and high-tech industries.

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About Rakesh Raman

Have extensive editorial, content management, and integrated communications experience and have worked as a senior tech journalist, analyst, and columnist with different newspapers, magazines, and Web/online properties in India.

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