Don't forget about digital dementia

Dont forget about digital dementia
Picture for illustrative purposes

Dubai - Teenagers have become so reliant on digital technology they are no longer able to remember everyday details such as their phone numbers.


Sherouk Zakaria

Published: Sun 5 Feb 2017, 2:48 PM

"Sorry I have a fish memory." That's a statement widely heard among young people nowadays who are increasingly struggling with memory issues.
But it's no coincidence, it's a condition named 'digital dementia' where teenagers have become so reliant on digital technology they are no longer able to remember everyday details such as their phone numbers. Even birthdays and different tasks are mostly remembered through Facebook notifications.
South Korean experts have found that those relying on technology suffered a deterioration in cognitive abilities more commonly seen in patients who have suffered a head injury or psychiatric illness.
It's no surprise as Dr Manio Von Maravic, neurologist at the German Neuroscience Center, said that in our fast-paced modern world, we now consume as much data in a single day as an average person from the 1400s would have in an entire lifetime. The overwhelming rise of information is affecting our attention and memory span.
An online Khaleej Times poll taken by 633 readers found that more than half of the participants rely on technology to perform most of their daily tasks and 67 per cent said if they lost their phone, they will remember only their parents' or spouse's phone numbers.
An overwhelming 65 per cent considered themselves tech addicts, while almost 90 per cent agreed heavy reliance on technology can affect their memory in the long run.
Von Maravic noted that the over-use of smartphones and game devices hampers the balanced development of the brain since the left side of the brain is active when using the Internet. Failure to develop the right side of the brain will affect attention and memory span, which could in as many as 15 per cent of cases lead to the early onset of dementia.
He added: "While many of us grew up remembering phone numbers and other key information simply by memorising it, most kids today have grown up not needing to remember things like phone numbers because we have devices that do it."
While acknowledging technology's role in helping nations and education move forward, Von Maravic said it should not interfere with essential intellectual skills. "Young generation in preschool age must be educated by parents and teachers to use these technologies with respecting limits related to age."
He added that receiving and communicating information must be followed in traditional ways of reading, writing and memorising to maintain a healthy balance between smart technology and humanity.
Multitasking is the problem
Multitasking significantly reduces brain's capacity to process information. A University of London study revealed that multitasking reduces IQ, with multitasking men dropping an average of 15 points - effectively giving them the same cognitive capabilities as an eight-year-old child. High multitaskers also had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region responsible for empathy as well as cognitive and emotional control.
Dr Gaj Ravichandra, consultant psychologist at PRIMCO, said technology taught the young generation to find information quickly without going in depth in the topic or utilising critical thinking skills.
"Learning information superficially interferes with remembering it." He added that parents and teachers have been complaining about their kids not engaging with them, which goes back to short concentration span caused by technology.
Use your real brain more and digital gadgets less
Children who grew up with technology and those who adopted it in later lives in the modern world, may not be destined to digital dementia indefinitely after.

Effects of digital dementia can be reversed through an active - rather than passive - role in the health of our brains.

Dr Manio Von Maravic, neurologist at the German Neuroscience Center, said the key is going slim on digital lifestyle. "Use your smartphone or other digital gadgets less when possible and try to use your 'real brain' more and more. For example, it would be better for your mental health to write a diary, read a newspaper or mentally perform your day-to-day math calculations."
Others tips he added were:
> Retrieve information from your brain organically - rather than automatically turning to Google to look up that actress you can't remember immediately. Sit there and concentrate until you can recall it.
> Learn a new language.
> Play an instrument. Active musicians are using both parts of the brain and improve all cognitive functions.
> Physical exercise increases blood flow and improve memory and thinking skills.
Dr Suzan Al Noori, senior consultant neurologist at the University Hospital Sharjah, said diet and adopting new habits will help cure the modern type of dementia. "Use paper and pen and try to memorise numbers. Writing would help you remember numbers because you're using more than one sense; your eyes, your hands and ears if you read the number out loud."

Playing games like chess helps spark thinking and concentrate, and eating healthy food such as nuts, fish and fresh fruits help develop the brain and improve memory.

She also noted that reading a book helps improve focus and incite imagination, rather than using electronic gadgets that don't allow you to make your pen markings.

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