If you are watching anti-vaccination protests on the news every night, you might fall into the trap of thinking that the internet and social media, in particular, is making us dumber.
However, researchers have discovered the reverse is true, especially for retirees.
According to the European researchers, retirees who spend time on the internet have significantly better brain function than those who don’t use the internet.
The study, which examined the cognitive function of more than 2000 retired people from across Europe, found that post-retirement internet usage is associated with substantially higher scores on word recall tests.
The participants in the study had all retired some time after 2004 and their cognitive function was tested in both 2013 and 2015. The study focused on a word recall test, where individuals were asked to recall a list of 10 words immediately, and then again five minutes later.
The results found that, on average, people who used the internet after they retired were able to recall 1.22 extra words in the recall test compared to non-internet users.
However, retirees who used the internet were also more likely to be male, younger, better educated, and have been retired for a shorter period. They also appeared to be in better health – even though they drank and smoked more.
Dr Vincent O’Sullivan from Lancaster University said the results still demonstrated a reduction in the rate of cognitive decline for those who used the internet post-retirement.
“Interestingly, this protective effect was found to be most significant amongst women, with female retirees who regularly surfed the internet able to recall 2.37 more wordscompared to women who didn’t go online,” Dr O’Sullivan said.
“The results were also consistent among men, with retired internet users able to recall 0.94 more words than men with similar characteristics who didn’t use the internet.
“We also found that retirees who used computers in their jobs before retirement were more likely to keep using computers once they retired, and hence had better cognitive function.”
Researchers compared the cognitive function of retirees who used to work in jobs where computers were commonplace to retirees who worked in jobs where computers were not often used. For example, among teachers, computers became common in the workplace much later than sectors such as financial services.
Their results revealed that people with pre-retirement exposure to computers were more likely to continue to use them once they retired.
“Research has shown that retirement from the workforce is a critical period for cognitive function, which declines with age and can be a predictor for a range of key health outcomes among older people,” said co-author Dr Likun Mao from Trinity College.
“Although there is a widespread belief that computer usage improves older people’s cognitive function – such as memory, attention, spatial abilities and problem solving – there has been mixed evidence from previous studies.
“We were able to discern that pre-retirement computer usage does not directly influence post-retirement cognitive decline, and we ensured our results referred only to post-retirement internet usage.”
Professor Colin Green from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology said further studies would need to be conducted to ascertain exactly what it was about internet usage that was able to protect cognitive function among retirees.
“Interacting with others online, finding out information in order to attend social activities or simple tasks like shopping online can all make life easier for retirees, but we are yet to understand which, if any, of these tasks actually go as far as improving cognitive performance,” Prof. Green said.
How often do you use the internet in retirement? Are you worried about losing some of your brain function as you age? What do you do to try to keep your brain as active as possible? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?
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