Mental Health

Digital Dementia: How Screen Time Impacts Cognitive Health

Overdependence on digital media causes reduction in memory span, attention, and may also accelerate early-onset dementia. Let’s find out how technology affects the brain and what can be done to prevent it.

By URLife Team
19 Jun 2024

You must have noticed someone in your family is forgetting minor things, or even losing attention, or a child is flunking tests in subjects. The prevalence of social media has led to a widespread issue of internet addiction. People have become more forgetful as they rely on smartphones. A study published in the Ochsner Journal in 2018 revealed that excessive smartphone use mainly stimulates the left side of the brain, potentially causing the right side to deteriorate, leading to reduced concentration and memory span.


Related story: Is Your Screen Time Making You Feel Sick?

What is Digital Dementia?

Digital Dementia is a term that refers to the decline in cognitive function and memory resulting from excessive use of digital technology, such as smartphones, computers, and tablets. This condition is identified by symptoms including forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, and reduced ability to focus. With the increasing integration of technology into our daily lives, it is critical to understand the potential negative impact on our brain health.

We had an insightful conversation with Dr. Shreya Chakravarty, a psychologist at Apollo Health City, Hyderabad, about the impact of excessive screen time on the brain. She addressed some of the most frequently asked questions about digital dementia, and its effects on both kids and adults and offered valuable prevention advice.

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As per a 2023 study issued in the National Journal of Indian Association of Preventive and Social Medicine, 23 per cent teenagers in India are smartphone addicts. Constant interruptions by technological devices during study time can impair a child's ability to focus and retain information, ultimately hindering their academic progress and cognitive development.


Related story: Are You Addicted To Your Phone? Here's How You Can Cut Screen Time

Q: Does excessive screen time cause permanent damage to an individual? 

Dr. Shreya: Yes, long and excessive exposure to digital media does affect human functioning. Internet addiction is linked to structural and functional changes in brain regions that are crucial for emotional processing, executive attention, decision-making, and cognitive control. Moreover, excessive screen time can disrupt sleep patterns, impair cognitive functioning (making information processing less efficient), increase stress and anxiety, reduce task performance and productivity, damage eyesight, and lead to posture-related issues.


Q: Besides digital dementia, what are other potential downsides?

Dr. Shreya: There are more symptoms of digital dementia. 

  • Multitasking with digital devices can lead to lower productivity and poorer task performance. The constant switching between tasks can reduce efficiency and increase the likelihood of errors.
  • Procrastination is another negative effect of digital dementia. Easy access to entertainment and social media can lead to procrastination, where individuals delay important tasks in favour of more immediately gratifying digital activities.
  • Heavy reliance on digital interactions can lead to social isolation, as real-life social interactions decrease. This can affect mental health and lead to feelings of loneliness.
  • Also, excessive screen time often means less time spent on physical activities, which can contribute to obesity, cardiovascular issues, and other health problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle.


Related story: Fun Ideas to Keep Your Kids Active And Limit Screen Time

Q: How does technology affect the brain?

Dr. Shreya:  Prolonged screen time can lead to a reduction in grey matter, particularly in areas related to processing emotions and controlling behaviour.
Frequent technology use, especially multitasking with multiple screens, can impair our ability to focus and sustain attention. This can lead to difficulties in tasks requiring prolonged concentration. Apart from this, constant notifications and the pressure to stay connected can increase stress levels and contribute to anxiety. Social media, in particular, can lead to feelings of inadequacy and depression due to constant comparison with others. Besides, prolonged use of devices can lead to poor posture, resulting in neck and back problems. Furthermore, the blue light emitted by screens can interfere with the production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for sleep regulation. This can lead to difficulties falling asleep and poor sleep quality”. 

Q: How can you prevent digital dementia?

Dr. Shreya: Here are some effective strategies:

  • Limit your screen time.
  • Increase physical and brain-stimulating activities.
  • Ensure you have good sleep and a proper diet.
  • Socialise more.
  • Spend time away from computers, TVs, and phones.


Related story: Ways To Practise Mindful Screen Time


Q: As an expert, what would be your personal opinion on  the way forward (for parents and their children, for teenagers, for adults)?

Dr. Shreya: As a psychologist, I strongly recommend limiting screen time, especially avoiding screens at least 2-3 hours before bedtime. Parents should avoid letting their children eat while watching TV or videos on the phone, and not use screens to distract children during temper tantrums. Parents should also lead by example, spending less time on screens and more time engaging in activities that strengthen family bonds. It's crucial to teach children the correct and productive ways to use digital media.


Related story: Can Parenting Impact Adoloscent Mental Well-being?

Technology undeniably shapes our brains deeply, impacting everything from our cognitive functions to our emotional well-being and physical health. While it offers remarkable benefits such as enhanced learning opportunities and improved problem-solving skills, excessive and unregulated use can lead to detrimental effects like impaired attention, memory issues, sleep disruption, and increased stress levels. If you find someone close to you having similar symptoms, it is advisable to consult a psychiatrist at UR.Life. By understanding these impacts and implementing strategies such as setting screen time limits, taking regular breaks, prioritising physical activity, and fostering real-world social interactions, the experts at UR.Life can help diminish the effects of digital technology.


Mindfulness 101:Bring calm into your day with these daily tips. Sign up here.



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