Computer training, e-Health, and improved cognitive performance

In much of the world, older adults have taken up computer and Internet use at a rapid pace, defying stereotypes and opening up multiple avenues for health and wellness interventions. In recent years computer- and Internet-based programs have been shown to help older adults manage chronic pain, weight loss, and diabetes. E-Health, the ability to use digital and other electronic technologies to access and apply health information, is a promising area for older adults and health providers. It is also thought that computer use may offer more direct social and cognitive benefits to older users beyond its contribution to health literacy.

A Brazilian study assessed the potential for specific cognitive benefits for novice computer users. A group of 22 adults, ages 60 and older, who were previously inexperienced with computers participated in a 15-lesson “digital inclusion” workshop on computer basics such as word processing and Internet browsing. (A control group of 20 older adults was offered the computer workshop after the testing stage of the experiment. Unfortunately, the authors did not address whether there were “placebo”-type activities for the control group during the intervention stage or other contextual information beyond sociodemographics.) The two groups were matched within statistical significance on age, gender, education, income, and performance on a variety of cognitive pre-tests that included memory, orientation and attention, and various language, visual, and spatial skills.

After the 15 workshop sessions, the two groups were tested on the same cognitive tests given as pre-tests (with new, equivalent items introduced for the memory test to avoid familiarity effects). The experimental group had significantly higher performance on the memory, language, visuo-spatial, and mental status scales in the post-test, while the control group showed no such changes. The authors note that this is a relatively small sample size, but point out that it seems to confirm findings from other recent studies on cognitive benefits of computer use. More specific information about the control group, or a comparative study where a control group participated in similar activities (such as a literacy or crafts workshop) may have been useful for some readers interested in the specific effects of computing, but the authors make a strong case for the value of digital inclusion for the well-being of older adults.

Article profiled (click for link):
Ordonez, T.N., et al., Elderly online: Effects of a digital inclusion program in cognitive performance. Arch. Gerontol. Geriatr. (2010), doi:10.1016/j.archger.2010.11.007

Other works cited:
Berman RL, Iris MA, Bode R, Drengenberg C, 2009. The effectiveness of an online-mind-body intervention for older adults with chronic pain. The Journal of Pain 10(1):68-79
Bond GE, Burr RL, Wolf FM, Feldt K (2010). The effects of a web-based intervention on psychosocial well-being among adults aged 60 and older with diabetes: a randomized trial. Diabetes Education 36(3):446-56.
van der Mark M, Jonasson J, Svensson M, Linne Y, Rossner S, Lagerros YT (2009). Older members peform better in an internet-based bahavioral weight loss program compared to younger members. Obesity Fact 2(2)74-9 (26.2)

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