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Men’s Health Week - should we be worried about digital dementia?

Last week was Men’s Health Week focusing on "Men's Health and the Internet". Immediately we picture of ourselves or our partners sitting for hours on the sofa (or on the toilet!) scrolling their phones or playing random games with it spring to mind. But it’s not just a men, is it? In this modern era, smartphones have become an integral part of our lives for all of us. While serving as our constant companions, providing us with instant access to information, entertainment, and communication, the term "digital dementia" is becoming a popular talking point in wellbeing. But is it really a thing?

This phenomenon refers to the cognitive decline caused by excessive smartphone use. The term "digital dementia" was coined by the neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer, to describe the cognitive decline and memory impairments associated with excessive use of digital devices such as smartphones, tablets, and computers, as a result of not utilising our cognitive abilities as we leave those functions to our digital companions.

It's important to note that the concept of digital dementia is not recognized as a distinct medical condition by the medical field and it’s not classified as a specific type of dementia.

Dementia refers to a group of neurological disorders characterised by a progressive decline in cognitive function, including memory, thinking, and reasoning, which is not solely caused by excessive smartphone use.

However there is evidence that excessive smartphone use can have negative effects on cognitive abilities, such as memory and attention span, which can be similar to the symptoms of actual dementia. Digital dementia is not a condition limited to older adults either.

In fact, it affects people of all ages who spend an excessive amount of time using their smartphones or other digital devices. The constant reliance on technology for even the simplest tasks hinders our ability to think critically and remember information.

There's no denying that smartphones have revolutionised the way we live, work, and connect with others. With a few taps on a screen, we can find answers to our questions, navigate through unknown streets, and even stay connected with friends and family across the globe.

Yet, this convenience comes at a cost. When we outsource our memory to smartphones, we lose the opportunity to exercise our brains. We can become more forgetful, relying on digital reminders and notifications instead of using our internal cognitive resources. What makes things worse is the constant distractions of social media, notifications, and endless streams of information that can make it difficult to concentrate on important tasks.

Smartphones are wonderful tools for staying connected with others, but they can also contribute to a sense of disconnection from the present moment. It's not uncommon to see people engrossed in their devices during social gatherings, ignoring the world around them. This constant state of distraction prevents us from fully engaging in face-to-face interactions, resulting in decreased social skills and empathy.

Finding the Balance

While it's clear that excessive smartphone usage can have negative consequences, it doesn't mean we should abandon our devices entirely. Smartphones, when used responsibly, can enhance our lives and provide numerous benefits. The key lies in finding a balance that allows us to leverage the advantages of technology without sacrificing our cognitive abilities and well-being.

Here are a few tips to help maintain a healthy relationship with your smartphone:

Set boundaries: establish specific times and locations where smartphone usage is limited or prohibited, such as during meals or before bedtime.

Take digital detox breaks: allocate dedicated periods of time to disconnect from your smartphone and engage in activities that promote mental and physical wellbeing.

Use productivity apps: utilise apps that help manage and prioritise tasks, reducing the likelihood of constant distractions.

Practice mindfulness: be present in the moment and cultivate awareness of your smartphone usage. Limit mindless scrolling and focus on meaningful interactions.

Engage in offline activities: rediscover the joy of hobbies, reading books, spending time in nature, and connecting with loved ones without the interference of screens.

By finding a balance between smartphone usage and real-world experiences, we can preserve our cognitive abilities, foster meaningful connections, and lead more fulfilling lives in this digital age. The key is to use our smartphone as a tool rather than allowing it to dominate our lives. Striking a balance between utilising beneficial apps and engaging in real-world experiences is essential for our overall wellbeing.




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