The Internet Helps the Old Stay Healthier

The older you are, the harder it can be to understand new technology. We can’t help but giggle every time Aunt Gertrude mistakes Facebook for Google, and we just try to make sure she doesn’t send any money to down-on-their-luck Nigerian royalty. For Aunt Gertie’s lack of online savvy nature, though, it turns out that going online is good for her, and all other seniors. There aren’t a lot of upsides to getting older, and the ones that do exist don’t outweigh the downsides, but getting older sure beats the alternative. And an article recently published in the “Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health” suggests that Internet use may contribute to the old staying healthy enough to get even older. In the article, staff at the University College of London analyzed findings from the “English Longitudinal Study of Ageing,” a study of British citizens age 52 and older. Specifically, the authors looked at the health literacy skills, defined as the ability to “obtain, understand, and process basic health information.” In their findings, the article’s authors claim that consistent Internet use was a statistically significant factor in preserving health literacy as people age. One of the other most statistically significant factors was social interaction, and together, the two are more effective than the sum effect of the two alone. The authors specifically tied literacy skills to health, writing “Internet use and engagement in various social activities, in particular cultural activities, appear to help older adults maintain the literacy skills required to self-manage health.” So it’s not that the Internet itself can make seniors healthier, but that it supports their ability to make smart decisions about their health. Even so, chalk that up as a win for the series of tubes, as another senior who didn’t quite get the Internet put it. And in addition to aiding in health literacy, the Internet can provide relevant health content, as well. Does Specific Online Content Matter? The authors don’t specify what sort of web content improves health literacy, but we’d wager sites like WebMD are better for that than cat videos. And of course, good health information is out there for any seniors interested in looking for it. Doctors may get sick of patients reading up on Ebola symptoms and becoming convinced they’re infected, but they’re probably just as glad they no longer have to field as many questions on the basics, like when and where flu shots are available this year. Give Them Some Encouragement So the next time Aunt Gertie posts a status update like “where to find brownie recipe” or “grandchildren pictures,” it’s okay to laugh, but then ask her if she’s seen that new study about foods that improve brain function or lower blood pressure. And while you’re at it, ask if she’s still using that ancient dialup account you set up for her when you were in high school. If so, ask her whether she knows that the best way to reduce stress online is to upgrade to a faster connection. What’s the point in living longer if you spend all that extra time waiting for websites to load? Need faster Internet for Aunt Gertie? Check out her ISP options: [zipfinder]

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