Digital Dementia: The Long-Term Effects of Smartphone Usage

Published On September 24, 2013 | Tech Business

When is the last time you memorized someone’s phone number? How about an address? If you’re wracking your brain trying to remember, you’re not alone. With continued reliance on cell phones, tablets and other technology, fewer and fewer people are actually using their brain to perform basic tasks. And although that may appear to make life a bit easier, new studies suggest that it can actually be doing more harm than good.

Doctors in South Korea, one of the most digitally-dependent countries in the world, have coined the term “digital dementia” to describe a condition in which the cognitive abilities, particularly short-term memory, begins to deteriorate in heavy technology users.

The problem with the increased use of technology is that it causes individuals to rely on their brain less and less. People who spend a significant amount of time texting, using social networking accounts, and gaming, primarily use the left side of their brain while the right side, which is linked to concentration, goes underdeveloped. This is particularly harmful for teens and young adults whose brains are still developing. In fact, it has been reported that nearly 14 percent of young men and women age 18 to 39 suffer from poor memory.

Memory loss may not be the only side effect of over-use of technology, either.

Underdevelopment of the right side of the brain is also associated with impaired social skills, lack of creativity and difficulty expressing emotion. Young children and teens who spend more time behind a screen than socializing may have difficulty expressing themselves or forming relationships.

While the average time that individuals spend on their smartphones is always in flux, Experian Marketing Services has estimated that Americans spend one hour per day on their smartphone and Flurry has said that smartphone and tablet users spent two hours on apps daily, and the number is only climbing. In 2013, it was reported that 18.4 percent of people aged 10 to 19 use their smartphones for more than seven hours per day.

Though some may brush these findings aside, experts in South Korea, where one in five people use their phones for seven hours a day or more, believe that it should be taken very seriously. Many have even called Internet addiction a mental disorder that should be treated as a major public health issue. Staying ahead of the curve, the country has already established several clinics to address the issue.

When it comes to preventing the onset of digital dementia, experts say it is important to act as early as possible. Parents should carefully monitor and limit childrens’ use of computers and television. Other activities such as exercising and having more face-to-face conversations can also help stimulate the right side of the brain and prevent cognitive disorders. The good news about digital dementia is that, unlike elderly dementia, it can be reverted by following those same suggestions.

— By Jennifer Thayer

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