Digital Dementia (2/28-3/6/14)

Meetings With Manfred Spitzer on Digital Dementia. 2/28/14-3/6/14

Visit Calendar

The Department of Humanities in Medicine Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, Round Rock is pleased to bring Manfred Spitzer Ph.D., Ph.D., M.D. to Central Texas to discuss digital dementia – a possible looming health problem especially problematic for young children. Health professionals, educators, parents and all who are interested are welcome to attend sessions (at no charge) which will be held at various sites during the week of 2/27-3/6/14. See the calendar to the right for dates and sites.

Can children spend “too much” time on laptops, tablets, smartphones, TVs and other electronic devices?  Should parents and teachers be warned that these devices have been linked to possibly irreversible deficits in brain development (“digital dementia”)?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has been concerned about excessive exposure of children to TV for decades, and internet addiction has been recognized as far back as the 1990’s. (Their 2013 guidelines recommend limiting children aged 2 – 10 to two hours of media exposure per day, with zero exposure for children under age 2. The guidelines noted a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation survey of more than 2000 8- to 18-year-olds documenting that children and teenagers in the United States spend an average of more than 7 hours/day with a variety of different media.) Recently, in South Korea, one of the most wired nations on earth, the term “digital dementia” has been coined to refer to a deterioration in cognitive abilities associated with over-use of smartphones and game devices.

It appears that heavy users of such devices are vulnerable to over-reliance on the left side of their brains, leaving the right side untapped or underdeveloped. Children are more at risk than adults because their brains are still growing. One possible consequence is the current surge in South Korea of young people in their 20’s and 30’s showing up at clinics with memory problems, an inability to concentrate, and sleeplessness –symptoms typically associated with disorders in the elderly. In addition to a possible risk of emotional underdevelopment, current estimates predict that as many as 15% of these young adults will wind up with early onset dementia.

The situation appears to be worsening with increasing use of electronic media. More than 64 per cent of South Korean teenagers currently have a smartphone, the highest per cent in the world, up from 21.4 per cent in 2011. And the percentage of people aged between 10 and 19 who use their smartphones for more than seven hours every day has swelled to 18.4 per cent, an increase of seven per cent from last year.

Meanwhile, corroborating evidence has appeared in a recent USA study at UCLA. The study, a nationwide poll of more than 18,500 individuals between the ages of 18 and 99, disclosed that an increasing number of young Americans are suffering from poor memory. Although memory problems are normally seen as a sign of ageing, the latest study found that 14 per cent of young men and women between 18 and 39 also complained that their memory was poor. Stress and multi-tasking lifestyles were held accountable by the authors, as well as the present ubiquity of technology – including the Internet, texting and wireless devices that can result in constant multi-tasking, especially with younger people – may impact attention span, making it harder to focus and remember.

Our visiting expert, German neuroscientist Dr. Manfred Spitzer(who has taught, studied and done research in the US at Harvard and the University of Oregon), is the author of the 2012 book “Digitale Demenz” (available in multiple languages – soon to be available in English). Congruent with AAP guidelines, Professor Spitzer cautions parents and teachers of dangers associated with allowing children to spend too much time on a laptop, mobile phone or other electronic devices. Based upon his own investigations as well as an extensive review of current studies, Dr. Spitzer warns that the devices are addictive and that the deficits in brain development are irreversible. He has called for digital media to be banned from German classrooms.

Regarding our upcoming meetings with Dr. Spitzer, we have assembled a distinguished group of experts to query and interact with. Come and join us!

This series of events has been made possible by a generous grant from Robert J Barnhart.