For all the old-timer jeremiads about how the internet has ruined newspapers, evaporated attention spans, replaced words with callow-looking emoticons in attempts at written communication and turned into a global theatre for inane selfie-hinged narcissism, the world wide web may not be all bad.

That’s according to the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, which has published research by New York University doctors suggesting that moderate internet use in old age can sustain cognitive function and help stave off dementia.

The main conclusion to be drawn, the researchers said, was that going online regularly “was associated with approximately half the risk of dementia compared with non-regular usage,” a link that was there “regardless of educational attainment, race-ethnicity, sex, and generation.”

“Online engagement may help to develop and maintain cognitive reserve, which can in turn compensate for brain ageing and reduce the risk of dementia,” said corresponding author Virginia W. Chang.

Using the Health And Retirement Study (HRS), an ongoing multi-year survey of US adults, Chang and colleagues tracked 18,154 dementia-free 50 to 64.9-year-olds for a median of 7.9 years. During follow-up, 4.68% of participants were diagnosed with dementia, they reported.

“Being a regular internet user for longer periods in late adulthood was associated with delayed cognitive impairment,” according to the study, which cited HRS interviews with participants about their internet use.

But in case anyone jumps up and says the elderly – or any age cohort for that matter – could make better use of their time than scrolling through the incoherences proliferating across most social media, or clicking on those dubious-looking emails offering too-good-to-be-true returns on exotic investments, well, the the journal research has you covered.

“Further evidence is needed on potential adverse effects of excessive usage,” the NYU team warned, pointing to how other research suggests “reduced verbal intelligence, attention and deficits in grey and white matter regions” affecting mostly younger internet addicts.

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