A Syrian refugee child uses a computer during a class at the refugee camp in Yayladagi. AFP/Adem Altan
Computers do have their plus points, despite all the bad press -- the desk top, for instance, lowers the risk of dementia in the aged by a maximum of 40 percent, suggest latest findings.
"As the world's population ages, the number of people experiencing cognitive decline and dementia will increase to 50 million by 2025," said study co-author Osvaldo Almeida, professor at the University of Western Australia (UWA).
Almeida with colleagues undertook an eight-year study of more than 5,000 men aged from 65 to 85 years.
"But if our findings are correct, the increase in the number of cases of dementia over the next 40 years may not be as dramatic as is currently expected," added Almeida, also research director at the UWA-affiliate Centre for Health and Ageing, the journal Public Library of Science ONE reports.
Some of dementia's early symptoms are forgetting names and appointments, losing things, difficulty performing familiar tasks such as driving, managing personal finances, mood swings with anger or rage, paranoia and suspiciousness.
Almeida said previous studies showed that cognitively-stimulating activities decreased the risk of dementia but there was little evidence on the likely effect of computer use over many years, according to an UWA statement.
"So it got us thinking, with personal computer ownership on the increase, could it make a difference? We found that it did, and that there was a significant benefit," he said.
Researchers found that the risk of dementia was about 30-40 percent lower among older computer users than non-users and that their findings could not be attributed to age, education, social isolation, depression, overall health or cognitive impairment.
They found that computer users were younger than non-users, had completed at least high school, had a more active social network and were less likely to show evidence of depression or poor physical health.
Older people should therefore be encouraged to embrace computer technology as long as they understand the dangers of prolonged physical inactivity and the many advantages of a balanced and healthy lifestyle, the researchers suggested.
The study was part of Australia's longest-running longitudinal study of men's health and ageing. It has been following a group of more than 19,000 men since 1996.