Benefits of being a silver surfer

Using the internet may stave off depression in the older generation, according to new findings. A study led by Dr Sheila Cotton at the University of Alabama has found so-called silver surfers are not as likely to suffer from the condition if they log on regularly.

The research surveyed nearly 8,000 men and women aged 50 and older and found those who use social networking sites are nearly one-third less prone to being depressed.

Pew Research Centre has found more mature people are going online, with a third of over-65s using sites such as Facebook and Twitter, compared with just six per cent three years ago.

This emotional condition is least prevalent in 45-year-olds but is highest among those aged 80, with social isolation and loneliness cited as the strongest factors behind cases of depression in the elderly.

Dr Cotton noted: "Our findings suggest that internet use has a positive effect on depression."

This is because the internet helps older people - who may have mobility problems - keep in touch with friends and family and broaden their social networks.

Dr Jennifer Wild, a Chartered Psychologist from King's College London, said: "The findings are encouraging and offer potentially simple steps to help stave off depression in older adults.

"Social media helps people to feel less isolated and hence less depressed because it mimics offline interaction. Whether it's online or face-to-face, social interaction is essential for keeping depression at bay."

Dr Fiona Jones, from the Faculty of Health and Social Care Sciences and also a Chartered Psychologist, added: "The benefits of social contact and social support for health - physical and mental - are well known.

"This study adds to a growing body of research suggesting that even social contact through the internet is valuable. As more older people use the internet it may have great potential for improving quality of life."