Use of the Internet by older Americans leads to a reduction in the prevalence of depression, according to a study published by the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic Public Policy Studies. This research highlights the macro-benefit of deploying broadband to all health citizens.

Internet Use and Depression Among the Elderly analyzed a data sample of 7,000 Americans age 55 and older from the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study household survey. This survey instrument polls over 22,000 older Americans every two years. The data used by Dr. George S. Ford and Dr. Sherry G. Ford in the study was from the latest available data from 2006.

The researchers conclude that expanding Internet use among the elderly may have “significant economic payoffs.”

The study methodology analyzed two variables: Internet use and the measure of depression. Internet use is based on the question of whether the respondent uses the Internet for the purpose of “sending or receiving e-mail or for any other purpose” (yes or no). The depression variable was based on the eight-item depression scale developed by the Center for Epidemiologic Studies (known as the CES-D scale). This is a common screening test for people to use in assessing the state of their personal mental health. The scale synthesizes eight response to questions that ask the person to reflect on their mental wellbeing.

The sample was limited to non-working people over 55.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Getting broadband connections to the homes of older health citizens has a direct positive impact on the mental health of seniors, based on the data analyzed by the Phoenix Center team. Dr. George Ford intuits that, “Increased Internet access and use by senior citizens enables them to connect with sources of social support when face-to-face interaction becomes more difficult.”

The latest findings from The Pew Internet & American Life Project estimated that 45% of people over 65 use the Internet. The largest percentage increase in Internet use since 2005 has been in the 70 to 75 age group.

However, broadband penetration to households among the oldest age cohort severely lags younger homes; only 16% of people 76 years of age and older have broadband.

Public health policy would argue for broadband to be part of the prescription for senior health and wellness.