Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull is backing calls for cheaper internet access after it emerged that using the web may help prevent mental illness.

Health promotion agency VicHealth has published new research showing that people over 65 derive key health benefits from the internet, with activities like social networking playing an important role in staving off depression and reducing isolation.

The study also found that older people with internet access feel safer, volunteer more and have greater involvement with their communities.

VicHealth's findings were backed by Alzheimer's Australia, which said regular internet use may help prevent dementia.

"Using the internet can help keep older people engaged and is a form of cognitive activity providing mental stimulation," Alzheimer's Australia research fellow Dr Maree Farrow told AAP.

"And we know that keeping your brain active is associated with lower risk of developing cognitive impairment or dementia."

But despite the apparent health and social benefits, many older and less wealthy Australians simply can't afford the internet, VicHealth said.

It surveyed 25,000 people - including 8185 aged 65 or over - and found a clear correlation between income and web access.

The study found that 92 per cent of households with an income of $120,000 or more have access to the internet, falling to just 41 per cent of those with an income between $10,000 and $19,000.

In the wake of its research, VicHealth wrote to the nation's biggest internet service providers asking them to offer discounts for those aged over 65.

"We need to bridge this digital divide because we know that loneliness is detrimental to a person's health and wellbeing," VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter said.

"The number one reason for not having the internet connected at home is quite simply a matter of affordability."

As of Tuesday, only Telstra had responded, with its CEO David Thodey indicating a willingness to discuss the study with VicHealth.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull backed calls for cheaper internet access after being shown VicHealth's research.

"Affordability is one of the most important issues when it comes to broadband access," his spokesman told AAP.

 

Advertisement