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Digital Skills May Protect Brain Health

Digital skills may protect brain health Being able to effectively navigate the Internet can be a useful skill in many ways, as an increasing number of daily activities are moved online. From banking and shopping to learning and socializing, the ability to use online resources can open doors to new experiences. A new study from the Universidade do Sul de Santa Catarina in Brazil has shown that digital literacy may do more than provide a new way to perform these tasks - it may also help seniors keep their minds sharp for longer.

Memory test 
According to researchers, theirs was the first major study to prove that being more adept at using the Internet can confer benefits to memory. For the study, researchers followed more than 6,400 people in the U.K. between age 50 and 89 for eight years. At an initial test, participants were asked to remember a list of 10 words, and their accuracy was recorded. At four more points throughout the eight-year study, they were again asked to recall 10 words.

Over the course of the study, participants also reported the amount of time that they spent using the Internet. At the study's end, researchers determined that seniors who were more familiar with the Internet were also more likely to get higher scores on the memory test, with an average improvement of 3 percent. According to Andre Junqueira Xavier, the study's lead author, a 3 percent improvement shows significant progress. Scores on cognitive tests would generally be expected to decline over the period of the study.

The spice of life 
Xavier also suggested that performing a variety of activities online could be the best way to increase cognitive reserve and thus slow declines, since different tasks could confer different benefits. Any action that requires users to interact more with the Internet, rather than just passively browsing, might be the most beneficial for dementia and Alzheimer's care. For instance, rating songs, films and photos as they're viewed or listened to might improve memory more than simply enjoying them. The same goes for creating albums and playlists.

Shopping online could also be helpful, since it requires users to practice critical thinking and organization. Playing games online may have various benefits. On their own, computer games often require a number of skills such as planning ahead and adjusting quickly to new conditions. However, those played online with other people may be even better.

Smart socializing 
According to the Association of Mature American Citizens, having an active social life may help prevent the decline of memory and other cognitive functions. The source reported that previous studies have backed up the association between social connections and brain health. For instance, people who have the most interactions with family and friends have been shown to retain their mental capabilities longer and be less likely to develop dementia at any point. People with more close connections in their neighborhoods or retirement communities may therefore experience less cognitive decline than isolated individuals.

Online games, or any other kind of online interaction, may provide the same potential for healthy relationships. People who have more social contact might have better outlets for stress than those who are isolated, and could benefit from the mental stimulation that conversations can provide.

​Risk factors 
AMAC reported that seniors who had less education and more vascular conditions - both risk factors for dementia - could benefit the most from the effects of a healthy social life. That's good news, as the study led by Xavier showed that those groups were among the lowest performers on the memory test. Seniors with depression, diabetes and hearing impairments also performed worse than their peers, especially when they weren't digitally literate. According to the researchers, countries that implement programs to improve digital literacy could see declining dementia rates.

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