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TMCNet:  Teaching seniors to use the Internet reduces risk of depression [Detroit Free Press :: ]

[April 21, 2014]

Teaching seniors to use the Internet reduces risk of depression [Detroit Free Press :: ]

(Detroit Free Press (MI) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) April 22--Depression, a common problem for older adults, might have an easy antidote: The Internet.

According to new research by a Michigan State University professor, computer use among retirees reduces the risk of depression by more than 30%.

And don't worry that Grandpa doesn't yet understand this newfangled Internet-thing.

It's never too late to learn, said Sheila Cotten, lead author and a professor of telecommunication, information studies and the media.

In earlier research, Cotten and others led 300 seniors through an eight-week course to get them proficient online. Many had never used a computer before. Their average age: 82. The oldest: 102.

"If you start out with some very basic training ... and get them to see how Internet use can be beneficial to them, they get over that fear and they get engaged," Cotten said.

Her latest research was published online last week in the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences. Cotten and her team sorted through data of 3,075 men and women who were retired and 50 or older. The participants were part of a larger, unrelated study and had been surveyed four times between 2002 and 2008.


Researchers wanted to focus on retirees -- those who no longer have jobs that force them to interact in person or online.

With other factors held constant -- such as whether the seniors lived with other people -- the authors found that roughly 7 in 100 Internet users were estimated to have depression, whereas 10 in 100 non-computer users were estimated to have depression.

In other words, Internet use led to a more than 30% reduction in the probability of depression.

It's not clear what the participants were doing -- checking e-mail, shopping or searching for information. And that doesn't matter, Cotten said: "It's really about being able to connect and communicate and find information you need." The results don't surprise Annena McCleskey.

At 70, she's recuperating from hip replacement at Maple Manor in Novi, a facility that opened last month with a bank of computers near the dining area. As the long-term care facility begins to fill up, staff members hope to keep residents connected to loved ones.

McCleskey keeps her Mac Pro laptop and cell phone nearby, regularly texting and calling loved ones, including a grandson in California. She tracks her medical records online, too. And she has been checking out restaurant discounts and playing Solitaire.

"I didn't want to be in a closed situation, where I'd be removed from my buddies and everything," McCleskey said.

While she's using a walker and her mobility is limited, she said, the laptop "brought my family to me, my friends to me and my games to me." For others, keeping in touch might mean an introduction to Facebook, said Amy Patterson, activities director at Maple Manor in Wayne.

But that's OK, Patterson said.

Staff can introduce seniors to e-mail and to Facebook. And simple, big-lettered instructions on index cards can help. Finally, they let the seniors' support network -- friends and family -- know their loved one is online. The e-mails and Facebook friend requests start.

One picture of a grandchild, Patterson said, and human nature takes over.

"They figure it out. They start pressing buttons and getting to the next picture and next picture and the next picture." With staff help, they can store passwords and eke out short-cuts, Patterson said: "You can't count it out -- six clicks to when they can get to their kids and grandkids." Contact Robin Erb: rerb@freepress.com or at 313-222-2708.

___ (c)2014 the Detroit Free Press Visit the Detroit Free Press at www.freep.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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