Silver surfers suffer less from memory loss, reveals top medical expert

Using the internet and sending emails can be used to prevent memory loss and reduce the likelihood of dementia in the elderly, according to new medical research.

Dr Tom Stevens

Results of an eight-year study of around 6,500 50-90 year-olds reveal that those who regularly go online experience less mental decline compared to those who do not use the internet. The study, published in the Journal of Gerontology, reported a significant improvement in delayed recall over time intervals for those subjects who were frequent online users, highlighting the role played by the internet in preventing the degeneration of mental abilities in the elderly.

Ben Williams, Head of operations at Adblock Plus and Dr Tom Stevens, Consultant Psychiatrist at London Bridge Hospital argue the benefits of the internet in preventing mental decline and reducing the risks of social exclusion, whilst advising on the dangers to vulnerable groups in society from online scams and intrusions.

Dr Tom Stevens, Consultant Psychiatrist at London Bridge Hospital, comments on the impact of the internet in keeping older people mentally active: “People over the age of 65 must remember the phrase ‘use it or lose it’, and the internet is a good way to ensure that older people are still able to use their mental faculties.”

“The internet and information technology offers some of the best opportunities to challenge people of this age-group, as it provides a means of communication and convenience, and is something that they can take part in despite any disabilities they may have.”

Adblock Plus also encourages the move to widen internet access, but highlights the need to educate older and more vulnerable people about online dangers.

Advertising can be designed specifically to be intrusive, by blocking users’ viewing of pages and causing confusion for those less familiar with it. Older users are not only at a greater risk of being drawn into online scams, but are likely to suffer more from the intrusiveness of ads such as pop-ups and banners that obscure their view and make it harder for them to use the internet effectively.

Ben Williams comments: “Everyone in society – those both young and old – should be able to use the internet to stay in touch with others, for instance by sharing photos on social media with more distant family, and catching up with old friends. Any communication, whether it be face-to-face or digital, enables people to feel connected, and basic digital skills give people this opportunity.”

“However, we mustn’t forget that with more older people using the internet, they must be informed about the choices they have online. With no experience of online advertising, constant blinking banners and pop-up adverts could spoil the internet for them, making them think it is a tasteless and unmanageable jungle, and put them off the whole experience.”

“Plus, there are online risks that specifically target older users, such as phishing scams, or promotions of miraculous and discount medication, and low-cost insurance, and it is our responsibility to ensure that older people aren’t ignorant about these. Basic lessons in how to stay safe and not put yourself in danger of online scams and viruses is essential.

“Of course it is possible to use the internet and not fall prey to online advertising, for instance with the help of ad-blockers such as Adblock Plus. But, if we are to educate the elderly on these skills, we must ensure we don’t render them vulnerable in the process.”