Computer Use Keeps Brain in High Gear

by Matilda Charles
We can improve our memory and store brain power for the future by surfing the Internet and checking email. So says a study with the unwieldy title of “English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA): Can Internet/Email Use Reduce Cognitive Decline?”

Per the study, besides “storing” cognitive ability (brain-based skills) for the future, digital literacy also “leads to the employment of more efficient cognitive networks to delay cognitive decline” — in other words, we find new ways of getting the results we want.

It makes sense. Digital literacy involves more than just pressing buttons on the keyboard. Hunting for what we want on the Internet involves thinking, planning and carrying out what we want to do, evaluating what we find and maybe sharing it in email with others. And it’s not just computers; smart phones, tablets and laptops play a part in digital literacy — as long as we understand how to use them.

The study used a large group — 6,400 adults in Britain — ages 50 to 89, with annual retests for eight years. As tests of memory, they were given 10-word lists for later recall.

The conclusion was that good health, financial status and education — and digital literacy — resulted in better memory. Those who didn’t use the Internet showed declines. Current users increased their recall capability.

The good news is that over half of seniors between 65 and 74 have Internet access, in both the U.K. and the U.S.

Key is that little caveat about financial status. Not everyone can afford a computer and Internet access. However, there are ways to get around this. Senior centers often give classes on Internet browsing, use of cellphones, useful computer programs like email and bookkeeping, and the like. And if they don’t have computers that seniors can use, the library usually does.

(c) 2014 King Features Synd., Inc.