I recently listened to a lecture about the dangers of digital dementia, and I think it’s an important topic to explore on the healthycaregiverblog. Essentially, it’s a condition that develops overtime after becoming addicted to and overusing digital technology. This includes smart phones, computers, reading devices, and tablets. The term was coined by German neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer and describes how the result of overuse of digital technology is resulting in the breakdown of cognitive abilities, which first appear as something similar to attention disorder.
Our kids are on their phones too much, they play video games for hours, and studies have shown they are having an increasingly harder time concentrating on schoolwork. An article in Psychology Today (Susan Greenfield Ph.D., 7.1.15) says “We know that action video gaming is linked with greater brain volume in the striatum (1) but this may be at the expense of a reduction in hippocampal volume. (2) Although this proposal requires further investigation, previous research has shown that reduced grey matter in the hippocampus is associated with an increased risk for schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and dementia, amongst other disorders.”
According to the Kaiser Foundation’s shocking report, elementary-age children use entertainment technology for an average of 7.5 hours a day.
- 75% of these children have televisions in their bedrooms
- 68% of two-year-olds regularly use tablets
- 59% have smartphones
- 44% have game consoles.
While occasional digital screen time may be okay, many parents rely on them for babysitting and some peace and quiet. An ASHA Survey of the U.S. states that:
“…more than half of parents surveyed say they use technology to keep kids ages 0–3 entertained; nearly 50% of parents of children age 8 report they often rely on technology to prevent behavior problems and tantrums.”
However, just because something is common doesn’t mean it’s okay. What exactly should we be worried about?
Spitzer proposes that short-term memory pathways will start to deteriorate from underuse if we overuse technology. I know for my self that I am addicted to checking my email and friends’ Facebook posts. I have also realized that it is more difficult for me to concentrate on reading the newspaper because I can get the nugget of information more quickly online than reading an entire article. I’m just thankful my overuse of technology hasn’t gotten in the way of my love for reading hand-held old-fashioned books.
But what about putting myself at risk for dementia? Should I worry? Should you worry?
Here’s why: All digital devices emit high levels of blue light and blue light has been proven to increase cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone. Chronically elevated cortisol levels can lead to shrinkage in some brain areas, most notably the hippocampus, which is what is associated with memory and recall. This is the area first affected in Alzheimer’s disease. Elevated cortisol is also a major contributor to obesity and Type II Diabetes. It also disrupts our normal circadian rhythm leading to sleep disorders. Over 25,000 articles have been published in scientific journals over the last 30 years about the effects of EMF’s (electromagnetic fields) on human health.
I think we all need to be cognizant of how much time we spend behind the screen–any screen, including TV. Here are some ways to turn of the technology, re-establish healthy social interaction and get healthier at the same time.
Include your family in setting these parameters
- Get outside as much as possible. Walk more. Get a dog so you have to go outside and walk. Exposure to natural sun light is much preferred over sitting in front of a digital device that emits blue light.
- Limit the time digital technology is used in your home. Set a specific time and limit that time.
- Read more, read together.
- Enjoy a joint or individual project. Have a game night or an ongoing puzzle set up in the family room.
- Make it a strict rule: no phones or TV at the dinner table. That includes at restaurants.
- Learn games on non-electronic formats. For instance, instead of learning how to play chess on a computer, get a chess set and set up the board. Leave it out; don’t put it away. It’ll encourage your family to play more often.
- Write a play and then act it out for the family or neighborhood
- Learn how to play a musical instrument.
- Join a sports team.
- Walk a neighbor’s dog or babysit.
You will enjoy more social interaction, feel happier, healthier and more at peace with yourself and the world around you.
- Kühn S, Romanowski A, Schilling C, Lorenz R, Mörsen C, Seiferth N, … & Gallinat J. (2011). The neural basis of video gaming. Translational Psychiatry, 1(11), e53
- West GL, Drisdelle BL, Konishi K, Jackson J, Jolicoeur P, & Bohbot VD. (2015). Habitual action video game playing is associated with caudate nucleus-dependent navigational strategies. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 282(1808)