Study Draws Correlation in Computer Literacy and Senior Healthcare

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Study Draws Correlation in Computer Literacy and Senior Healthcare

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A new study suggests that seniors who use the internet, even infrequently, are less likely to engage in cancer-causing behaviors and more likely to take cancer prevention steps than older people who do not go online at all. The study was published October 22 in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

The study holds interesting implications for a senior’s health.

Older users of digital media are more likely to be screened for cancer.

Researchers surveyed approximately 6,000 adults over the age of 50 between 2002 and 2011. Participants answered questionnaires every two years about their digital media use, as well as their lifestyle and health habits.

Of those surveyed, 38 percent reported using the internet sporadically and about 20 percent stated they log on regularly.

Researchers noted that overall the 58 percent of respondents who reported at least some internet use were more likely to be screened for colorectal cancers. Interestingly, that likelihood increased with more computer usage. People who regularly used the internet regularly were doubly likely to undergo voluntary colon cancer screenings than those who do not use digital media at all.

Internet users smoke less and eat better foods.

Among all survey participants–both men and women–people who regularly use the internet ate more healthy foods. They reported eating five servings of fruits and vegetables (the FDA’s recommended daily allowance)—24% more often than those who did not log on.

They were also more likely to engage in healthy behaviors, and to refrain from unhealthy behaviors.

Men and women who use the internet were found to exercise 50% more often than non-users, and they smoked cigarettes 44% less than non-users.

It’s not known if digital media use actually causes a person to exhibit healthier behaviors, but…

It is well-recognized that age, socioeconomic status and physical or mental disabilities have a strong influence on the chance that a person will browse the internet or use e-mail. The October study did find that internet usage was less prevalent in those of advanced age, with disabilities, those who were poorer, and among people of color.

Surprisingly, though, researchers found that cancer preventative behaviors were still more common in digital media users, even when socioeconomic and demographic factors were held constant. Though the team was careful to note that this doesn’t necessarily indicate a cause and effect relationship between digital media use and cancer preventative actions, they could not rule it out.

It may be that cancer awareness is increased by items and articles that people read online, and people modify their behaviors accordingly. The researchers recommended that further study be conducted to find out why.

In the meantime, the study suggests that seniors who are digitally-savvy may benefit from access to health information and education they can find online.

There are many opportunities to learn how to get online.

If your loved one is a senior living without access to the internet, it’s never too late for him or her to learn how to go digital. Many organizations offer free classes to seniors to teach the basics of internet and e-mail usage:

  • Contact the AARP or local senior organizations. They may be able to provide you information about courses offered to seniors in your area.
  • Many senior living communities offer computer amenities to residents. If you are involved in making a senior’s health care decisions, you might look for a residential community which offers public computer areas as an amenity. Episcopal Retirement Homes communities often offer computer classes for senior residents!
  • Check with local universities and community colleges about free courses for seniors. Many institutions offer free tuition and / or lifelong learning courses for seniors.

A senior’s health depends upon good wellness practices.

Remember, the best way to avoid cancer is living a healthy lifestyle and being screened regularly for cancers that commonly affect seniors. Early detection and aggressive treatment of a growth is the key to a positive long-term outcome.

Talk to your primary care doctor about devising a healthy exercise and diet program and make sure you have any recommended screenings. 


Worried about a loved one?  Download our tipsheet to decide if it's time to talk about senior care.
Bryan Reynolds
December 14, 2013
Bryan Reynolds is the Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations for Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS). Bryan is responsible for developing and implementing ERS' digital marketing strategy, and overseeing the website, social media outlets, audio and video content and online advertising. After originally attending The Ohio State University, he graduated from the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, where he earned a Bachelor of fine arts focused on electronic media. Bryan loves to share his passion for technology by assisting older adults with their computer and mobile devices. He has taught several classes within ERS communities as well as at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute run by the University of Cincinnati. He also participates on the Technology Team at ERS to help provide direction. Bryan and his wife Krista currently reside in Lebanon, Ohio with their 5 children.

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