All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Shelia Cotten

Advisory Committee Members

Sara Czaja

Patricia Sawyer

Irena Stepanikova

Document Type

Dissertation

Date of Award

2014

Degree Name by School

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) College of Arts and Sciences

Abstract

The escalating pressures put on the US healthcare system, due in part to the growing needs of the expanding older adult population, has motivated research dedicated to more fully understanding the mental health and mental well-being needs of this population and ways to address these needs and alleviate the pressure on the healthcare system. An increasing area of interest is in examining the role information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as Internet-connected computers and smartphones, in the health of older adults. Research has shown that ICTs can successfully be used to help treat, manage, and cope with mental health/well-being issues, but previous literature also finds that ICTs can contribute to mental health/well-being outcomes more directly. While studies have shown that ICTs may benefit older adults with regards to mental health/well-being, less is known through what mechanisms this relationship is enacted. This study uses data from the Health and Retirement Study to compare Internet-using older adults (aged 65+) with non-users on depression, life satisfaction, loneliness, personal growth, and purpose in life. Specific attention is given to examining the potential mediating roles of social integration (i.e., quantity of social ties) and social support (i.e., quality of social ties), as a Durkheimian perspective of Internet use argues that Internet use can be both beneficial and detrimental to an individual's social life, and changes in social life through Internet use can in turn affect mental health/well-being. Results of cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses finds Internet users, compared to non-users, typically enjoy more favorable mental health/well-being outcomes. Measures of social integration and social support are found to mediate the relationship between Internet use and mental health/well-being, but only partially. Additional analyses find that demographic characteristics, such as income and functional limitations, moderate the relationship between Internet use and mental health/well-being in older adults. The findings suggest that ICT interventions that incorporate elements that help older adults maintain social contacts and develop new ones may lessen mental health/well-being issues and the burdens associated with them.

Share

COinS