Three researchers from New York University have shown something startling. You can cut your risk of dementia in half with a simple trick—using the internet for roughly two hours a day.
Dementia is a state in which your brain shrinks and your memory gives out on you. It often comes with old age. In extreme cases of dementia, you can forget where you are, what year it is, and who the people around you are, even if they are the people you love the most in the world.
The NYU researchers studied 18,154 adults between the age of 50 and 65 for up to 17 years. The results were amazing. The age at which these study subjects showed signs of dementia was not related to their level of education, their race, their ethnicity, or their sex. But the onset of dementia was related to one critical factor: using the Internet. People who used the Internet daily for up to two hours were half as likely to slide into dementia as folks who did not use the Internet. Regular internet usage cut the risk of dementia in half.
And, added the researchers, “Being a regular internet user for longer periods in late adulthood was associated with delayed cognitive impairment.” In other words, if you want to dodge the brain decay of old age, start using the Internet daily in your 50s. Or earlier.
CNN’s coverage of this NYU study, added something crucial, “Older adults’ use of social networking sites ,” said CNN, “can also increase their connections to other people and reduce isolation. Some studies have shown that older people who were lonely were three times more likely to develop dementia.” And as surgeon general Vivek Murthy declared on Tuesday, May 2nd, loneliness is now a public health epidemic.
Loneliness slowly kills you. Literally. But, the Internet is the ultimate relationship-maker. If you can’t relate to anyone in your hometown, you can find people on your wave-length in Serbia, Spain, or South Africa. On the Internet.
Yet we’re living in an era of Internet hysteria and Internet attack. Wherever you turn, activists want to limit social media, to break up Facebook, or to ban TikTok. To make things worse for internet lovers, the Senate has written The Protecting Kids on Social Media Act , which would lock kids under 13 out of all social media and which would give teenagers over the age of 13 access only if they get their parent’s permission and if that permission is backed by paperwork proving age. This is a huge mistake.
The odds are that the Internet is making kids smarter, not dumber. If you gave an IQ test from 1916, the first year the IQ test was used, to an average hundred kids off the street, those kids would measure near genius. They’d measure an average IQ of 135. This constant rise in IQ over the last hundred years is called the Flynn Effect. And science writer Steven Johnson, in his book Everything Bad is Good For You, offers an explanation of why. Media, he shows, has been getting more and more complex since 1916. First came radio in 1922. Then TV in the late 1940s. Then cable and shows more and more complex, more and more challenging with deep tangles of multiple plots like Lost. In the early 80s we got the Internet. And in 2004, social media. Every upgrade in the challenge and complexity of media, Johnson suggests, has led to an increase in the average IQ.
In fact, IQ has been increasing at the rate of 3 points per decade. Thanks to the very Internet technology that frightens parents and that pundits say dumbs kids down. No, the Internet is ratcheting kids up. The Internet is making us smarter. And it’s giving us new ways to heal ourselves when we are troubled.
But let’s get back to the role of the Internet in protecting you from dementia. The real key to dodging dementia is use it or lose it. Use your brain on just about anything from crossword puzzles to video games and you can delay dementia. You can delay what used to be called senility. Why? Your brain is composed of 100 billion neurons. One hundred billion brain cells. Those neurons are social networkers. They are constantly trying to build long, skinny connections to other neurons. Your brain has roughly 100 trillion of these connections. They’re called synapses. If the feelers your neurons put out to other brain cells are not welcomed by the neurons they’re asking to connect with, your rejected neurons are likely to be sidelined, to degenerate, and ultimately to die. And dying neurons help produce dementia.
Dying neurons and rejected nerve cell connections make you forgetful and duffle headed in your old age. How do you prevent your neurons from dying out? You make sure that when they reach out for connection to other brain cells, they’re welcomed.
And just how do you go about that? You use your brain. You challenge it. You don’t sit and watch TV all day. You go out and walk. You exercise. You play board games. You take courses at a local university. You talk to friends. You join an organization whose work you believe in and get together with others in the group on projects. And if you want to cut your chances of dementia in half, you use the internet for roughly two hours a day.
Gawon Cho, Rebecca A. Betensky, Virginia W. Chang, Internet usage and the prospective risk of dementia: A population-based cohort study, lournal of the American Geriatrics Society, 12 March 2023, https://agsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/jgs.18394
Karen Runge, Carlos Cardoso and Antoine de Chevigny, Dendritic Spine Plasticity: Function and Mechanisms, Frontiers in Synaptic Neuroscience, 28 August 2020, Volume 12 – 2020, https://doi.org/10.3389/fnsyn.2020.00036
Trahan, L. H., Stuebing, K. K., Fletcher, J. M., & Hiscock, M, The Flynn effect: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 2014, 140(5), 1332–1360. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0037173
Steven Johnson, Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter, Riverhead Books, 2006.
Nancy L. Mace, Peter V. Rabins, A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer Disease, Related Dementias, and Memory Loss, Johns Hopkins University Press,· 2011.
Howard Bloom of the Howard Bloom Institute has been called the Einstein, Newton, and Freud of the 21st century by Britain’s Channel 4 TV. One of his seven books–Global Brain—was the subject of a symposium thrown by the Office of the Secretary of Defense including representatives from the State Department, the Energy Department, DARPA, IBM, and MIT. His work has been published in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Wired, Psychology Today, and the Scientific American. He does news commentary at 1:06 am Eastern Time every Wednesday night on 545 radio stations on Coast to Coast AM. For more, see http://howardbloom.institute.