Older adults who regularly used the internet have a significantly lower risk of dementia, a study published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society said on Wednesday.

Researchers at New York University followed 18,154 adults ages 50-64 who at the beginning of the study did not have dementia, tracking them for about eight years.

CNN said the participants were part of the nationally representative University of Michigan Health and Retirement study supported by the National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration.

Each adult was asked a question at the beginning of the study and every other year after that: Do you regularly use the World Wide Web, or the internet, for sending and receiving e-mail or for any other purpose, such as making purchases, searching for information or making travel reservations?

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The United Kingdom’s Daily Mail said that almost 5% of the study participants had been diagnosed with dementia by the end of the study.

And those who said they had been using the internet regularly were “associated with approximately half the risk of dementia compared to non-regular usage.”

Study details

CNN reported that the researchers kept track of how many hours the adults spent online, ranging from no time to eight hours.

Those who had the lowest risk of dementia used the internet for about two hours or less every day. A high risk of dementia was found in those who used the internet between six and eight hours, though researchers said the “estimates were non-significant due to small sample sizes.”

The authors of the study refer to disparities that cause the big gap of dementia risk between regular internet users and non-regular users as the “digital divide.”

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“Scientists suggested the ‘digital divide’ could be because the internet stimulates the brain to protect against deterioration,” the Daily Mail reported.

The researchers found that educational attainment, race, ethnicity, gender and generation did not contribute to the digital divide in the findings.

Study co-author Dr. Virginia W. Chang told CNN, “Online engagement may help to develop and maintain cognitive reserve, which can in turn compensate for brain aging and reduce the risk of dementia.”

“They did not adjust for other factors like smoking, drinking and obesity, which are all known to raise the risk of dementia,” the Daily Mail said.

Scientists in the study said further research is needed to explore more about the link between using the internet and positive brain health, while also examining the side effects of excessive internet use.