Internet Usage May Reduce Dementia Risk

Internet Usage May Reduce Dementia Risk
By Andrew Luer
Category: Brain Health

In our book, Brain Wash, Dr. Austin Perlmutter and I warned about the potential risk of extensive Internet usage, especially as it relates to adolescents using excessively involved in social media.  But new research reveals there may be an upside, at least as it relates to an older demographic. Findings from an extensive multi-year longitudinal study indicate a reduced risk of dementia in older adults who engage in regular Internet usage for less than two hours daily.

Other research, including both cross-sectional and longitudinal designs with shorter follow-up times, points to regular Internet use as a potential factor in maintaining cognitive reserve. This concept gains importance when considering older individuals who may experience negative impacts of brain aging. Reports show that regular Internet users often exhibit better memory, cognitive function, and verbal skills.

Various aspects such as economic and educational differences, as well as age-related variations in Internet use, must be considered. Older individuals typically use the Internet less frequently, which could mean that the positive impact on cognitive functions is less pronounced compared to younger generations who grew up with digital technology and may use it excessively. Beyond a certain age, the rapid progression of brain aging could overshadow any beneficial effects from Internet use. It’s important to note that most research on the adverse effects of Internet use focuses on younger individuals, leaving a gap in data regarding older demographics.

The highlighted study involved 18,154 individuals aged between 50 and 64.9 years, all dementia-free at the start, from the Health and Retirement Study. They were observed for a median of 7.9 years, with some followed up to 17.1 years. The study used propensity score methods to adjust for the likelihood that individuals with better cognitive health might choose to use the Internet more frequently.

The risk of developing dementia based on initial Internet use was analyzed and took into consideration various factors including employment history, education, gender, generation, and ethnicity. The study also factored in cumulative Internet use and daily usage hours. This analysis spanned from September 2021 to November 2022.

Findings revealed that regular Internet users had nearly half the risk of developing dementia compared to those who used it less frequently, with a hazard ratio (HR) post-adjustment for self-selection bias of 0.54. Adjustments for initial cognitive decline did not significantly alter these findings.

The study suggests a U-shaped association between dementia risk and daily Internet use, with the lowest risk for those using the Internet between 0.1 and 2 hours daily, although this finding was not statistically significant due to a small sample size.

Overall, the risk of dementia was notably lower in regular Internet users compared to nonusers. This significant finding, backed by a large sample size and lengthy follow-up, along with comprehensive adjustments for potential confounders, underscores the need for further investigation. While the study did not explore negative impacts directly, it suggests that moderate Internet use, ideally around two hours per day, could be beneficial across all ages until further evidence is available.

This is interesting information and supports the notion of “use it or lose it” as it relates to cognitive function. The u-shape curve suggests that too much Internet usage may work against the goal, and will clearly threaten the available hours in the day for other important brain healthy activities like exercise, getting out in nature, and socializing with others.

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Dr. Perlmutter is one of the leading lights in medicine today, illuminating the path for solving chronic illness

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