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Computer use by seniors may be good for their mental health

Newswise--Seniors who become adept at and use a computer appear to have fewer depressive symptoms than those older adults who aren’t so technologically connected.

That’s the finding of a research study, Depression and Social Support Among Older Adult Computer Users, presented August 18 at the 113th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

The data regarding computer use and depressive symptoms was collected as part of the latest wave of an ongoing longitudinal study that is designed to determine the changes over time in physical health, mental health and social activity of older adults living in lower Manhattan.

Called VOICES (Villagers Over 65 Independent Living Challenges and Expectations), the research is being sponsored by Village Care of New York, a not-for-profit long-term care provider. Villagers refers to persons living in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village and environs, representing the core group of individuals being followed over the course of the study, which began in 1998.

The computer use study was conducted by Edward Cisek, PhD, and Kathleen Triche, DSW, CSW.

Triche, who presented the study’s findings at the conference in Washington, D.C., said that the researchers decided to look into the impact of the growing use of computers by seniors on the hypothesis that those using computers would report fewer depressive symptoms than non-users.

Through observations at one of Village Care’s senior information centers in New York City, which Triche directs, computer use there seemed to give older adults a greater connection with the world around them.

“Given the social and informational nature of older adults’ computer practices  e-mail, chat rooms and health information gathering, for example, it seemed likely that this would be beneficial to an individual’s overall mental health,” Triche said.

In the computer study, it was determined, after controlling for a number of background characteristics, that seniors who were computer users reported significantly fewer depressive symptoms than their counterparts who do not use the computer.

Researchers also found that computer users tended to be among the younger members of the study group and have higher annual household incomes, while also reporting higher functioning in activities of daily living than the rest of the seniors in the study group.

“Clearly, those older adults in this study who use computers report fewer depressive symptoms, regardless of how many hours per week they use the computers,” Triche said, cautioning, however, that these findings are among a generally highly educated group residing in a limited geographic area.

Future research in this area should include more diverse populations and use other measures of social connectiveness.

Participants in the survey included an urban community sample of 206 adults over the age of 65 (with a mean age of 80) that was randomly selected from three zip codes in lower Manhattan.


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