There are concerns that increased connectivity introduces health risks, from worsening mental health to physical harms like vision issues. However, the tide may be shifting with a new study revealing some unexpected health benefits of internet usage, especially for older adult populations.
According to the data presented by the Atlas VPN team, internet users aged 50 and older have a 33% lower risk of death than non-users. Engaging with new social connections and maintaining existing ones through the internet reduces social isolation and depressive symptoms, thereby decreasing the risks of death.
The data is based on Ren, Z., Xia, S., Sun, J., et al.Internet use, cardiometabolic multimorbidity, and death in older adults: a multi-cohort study spanning developing and developed countries. Global Health 19, 81 (2023). The material is under the .
The study analyzed adults aged 50+ years (n=104,422) from China, Mexico, the United States and Europe. The researchers compared internet users to non-users to see if being online was associated with lower chances of developing new diabetes, stroke, or dying over 10 years.
Additionally, older adults who use the internet have a 19% lower risk of a stroke than those who do not. Researching your own symptoms may allow faster identification of warning signs. Being connected digitally also appears to buffer stress, which is vital since chronic stress correlates biologically with higher stroke risk through pathways like inflammation.
Internet use among individuals aged 50 and above is also associated with a 17% lower risk of diabetes. Utilizing web resources on maintaining diet, activity, and routine health screenings allows users to better monitor and safeguard their health. It encourages actual behaviors linked to lower diabetes odds.
While the internet use strongly protects the over-50 population, the degree of risk reduction differs across the four regions analyzed. Benefits associated with internet use appear most pronounced in the higher-income areas.
Older adults who use the internet in China are 30% less likely to get diabetes or have a stroke than non-users. In addition, they have a 44% lower risk of mortality. These numbers might seem significant, but they should be looked at carefully. Out of 12,338 participants in China, only 236, or 2%, use the internet.
In addition, the research states that people in China who use the internet are less likely to seek health information online than adults in the US or Europe.
Mexicans aged 50 and above who use the internet have an 8% lower risk of diabetes, 1% lower odds of stroke, and a 9% lower risk of death. Mexico’s lesser numbers can be attributed to lower digital literacy and how Mexicans are less likely to access high-quality resources about health.
Internet users in the US have a 42% lower risk of death than non-users. Besides that, they also have a 13% lower odds of diabetes and a 16% lower risk of stroke. On the other hand, Europeans who use the internet have a 40% lower risk of mortality, 25% lower odds of stroke, and 14% lower risk of diabetes.
Developed nations’ healthcare foundations let seniors better utilize the internet for health gains. With extensive prevention infrastructure and doctors already employing online chronic care support, connected seniors can build on this ecosystem to advance positive outcomes.
Increasing internet access for older adults appears as a promising approach to reduce risks of cardiovascular diseases and premature mortality mediated by relieving depressive symptoms. But societies must ensure underprivileged older citizens share the connectivity perks while remaining aware of risks such as internet addiction.