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Impact of Screen Time on Older Lives

Stria Staff December 23, 2019
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Studies show positives and negatives when it comes to screen time, but all agree it’s on the rise among older people.

Studies are beginning to indicate that—young or old—we are spending a lot of our leisure time with our screens and electronics. While some researchers predict increased health-related problems directly associated with too much screen time, others believe that increased screen time may actually be beneficial for some older people. Either way, it is inevitable that today’s generations will incorporate more screen time than our predecessors.

The following articles highlight why older people are increasing the amount of time they spend per day watching or interacting with a screened device—and the some of the benefits and disadvantages that come with this shift.

Headlines & Insights: Curated excerpts from thought-provoking articles

Tech Adoption Climbs Among Older Adults
Pew Research Center | Monica Anderson and Andrew Perrin

At the same time America is graying, recent Pew Research Center surveys find that seniors are also moving towards more digitally connected lives. Around four-in-ten (42%) adults ages 65 and older now report owning smartphones, up from just 18% in 2013. Internet use and home broadband adoption among this group have also risen substantially. Today, 67% of seniors use the internet—a 55-percentage-point increase in just under two decades. And for the first time, half of older Americans now have broadband at home.

Americans 60 and Older Are Spending More Time in Front of Their Screens Than a Decade Ago
Pew Research Center | Gretchen Livingston

Those 60 and older—a group increasingly populated by aging Baby Boomers— now spend more than half of their daily leisure time, four hours and 16 minutes, in front of screens, mostly watching TV or videos. Screen time has increased for those in their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond, and the rise is apparent across genders and education levels. Meanwhile, the time that these older adults spend on other recreational activities, such as reading or socializing, has ticked down slightly.

This rise in screen time coincides with significant growth in the adoption of digital technology by older Americans. In 2000, 14% of those ages 65 and older were internet users; now 73% are.

The Effects Too Much Screen Time Has on Your Health
CareWell Urgent Care

…A 2014 Nielsen report found that adults log a total of about 11 hours of screen time a day.  Below are various ways adults’ health may be negatively affected by spending too much time tied to a screen.

1. More screen time = more weight…

2. Vision issues…

3. Chronic neck and back pain…

4. Poor sleep…

5. Impaired cognitive function…

6. You’re likely to die earlier

Social Media Buffers Depression Among Older Adults With Pain
The Journals of Gerontology | Shannon Ang

In a newly published University of Michigan study, researchers reported that using social media can reduce the negative health effects of curtailed social contact that comes as a consequence of pain…

…social media may preserve cognitive function and psychological well-being in this population, the researchers said.

“This is critical because the onset of pain can often lead to a downward spiral of social isolation and depression, resulting in adverse outcomes for the health of older adults,” said [Shannon Ang, the study’s lead author].

Screen Time Is Rising, Reading Is Falling, and It’s Not Young People’s Fault
The Washington Post | Christopher Ingraham

Among seniors, meanwhile, the rise in screen time means they may be putting themselves at increased risk of cognitive decline, unhappiness and death, among other things. These risks may be heightened further since the added screen time is coming at the expense of reading—an activity known to confer many mental health benefits. The share of seniors reading for pleasure on any given day has dropped dramatically, from 53 percent in 2003 to 37 percent in 2018.

So while society frets about teens growing “horns” on their heads from too much phone use, in the end it may be older Americans who are most adversely affected by the changes in technology.


This story was created in partnership with students from the Department of Gerontology at Virginia Commonwealth University. Thanks to Phyllis B. James for contributing research for this piece.

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