Can you teach an old dog new tricks? It turns out, you can—and using technology is important even in the retirement years.
In this instance, we’re talking about people rather than dogs. As the technology gap widens and leaves many older generations behind from understanding how to utilize the likes of computers, the internet, or Snapchat, technology is easily brushed off by older people. Sometimes it’s because they just don’t see the function of having such technological systems; other times it’s a lack of someone being able to teach them how to use it or make it financially feasible for those on restricted incomes.
We know that keeping the aging brain occupied (doing puzzles and reading, moving, and staying socially active) is one of the best ways to keep cognitive health intact so we don’t lose all the ground we gained when we were younger. A new study points out just how much the internet impacts an older brain in retirement, for the better.
Over 2,000 retirees across Europe who had been retired for at least nine years joined the study where their word recall and cognitive function was tested. They were asked to recall a list of words right after hearing them and to repeat them five minutes later.
On average, people who used the internet recalled 1.22 more words than those who didn’t use the internet. The women who used the internet recalled 2.37 more words compared to those who didn’t. Men scored 0.94 words more if they used the internet which is an 8% difference in cognitive performance!
The researchers found that it didn’t impact cognitive decline if the retirees had come from jobs where they used the internet, but that using the internet before retirement was usually continued if they had been exposed to it before retiring. The researchers were careful to adjust for occupational skills, education, and age so they could isolate data about using the computer only after retirement occurred.
Previous studies about how computer usage affects older adults has been mixed and inconclusive regarding if it’s important for cognitive functions like memory, problem solving, attention, and spatial awareness. This latest study finds that there is a difference but still needs further work to understand why this difference occurs.
While we’re waiting on those deeper studies, taking time to include the older generations in the ever-changing landscape of technology (or using it ourselves as we get older) could make an impact on keeping brains fitter as they age. Technology is there, after all, to make everyone’s lives easier!
Colin P. Green, Likun Mao, Vincent O'Sullivan. Internet usage and the cognitive function of retirees. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 2021; 190: 747 DOI: 10.1016/j.jebo.2021.08.013