In an age dominated by technology, the question of whether excessive screen time can lead to cognitive decline has become a topic of increasing concern. While the term “digital dementia” is not recognised as a medical condition, some experts use it to describe cognitive changes associated with technology overuse. Research suggests that prolonged and intensive use of digital devices may lead to dementia-like symptoms and potentially increase the risk of developing cognitive disorders. According to a research study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, excessive screen time is known to alter grey matter and white volumes in the brain, increase the risk of mental disorders, and impair the acquisition of memories and learning, which are known risk factors for dementia. Chronic sensory overstimulation (i.e., excessive screen time) during brain development increases the risk of accelerated neurodegeneration in adulthood (i.e., amnesia, early onset dementia). According to HealthLine, results of the study found that more than 4 hours of screen time a day was associated with an increased risk of vascular dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and all-cause dementia in participants. Additionally, higher levels of daily screen time were also linked to physical changes in some regions of the brain.

Symptoms of Digital Dementia

Digital dementia, a term coined by German neuroscientist and psychiatrist Manfred Spitzer in 2012, describes changes in cognition as a result of overusing technology. Digital Dementia is characterised by various symptoms that mimic those observed in traditional dementia. These symptoms include:

  • Memory Impairment: Excessive screen time can affect short-term memory, leading to forgetfulness and difficulty retaining new information.
  • Attention Deficit: Prolonged exposure to screens may contribute to shortened attention spans and difficulty concentrating on tasks.
  • Impaired Cognitive Function: Excessive technology use can impact cognitive abilities, such as problem-solving skills and critical thinking.
  • Emotional Disturbances: Individuals may experience mood swings, irritability, and increased stress levels due to overstimulation from digital devices.

Recommended Screen Time for Adults and Seniors

There are clear guidelines on how much screen time kids should have, but how much screen time is healthy for adults? There is a consensus on recommended screen time for adults; however, there is clear evidence that too much screen time can be detrimental to your health. For instance, this study found that those spending six hours or more per day watching screens had a higher risk for depression, and this study found that limiting social media use to 30 minutes per day led to a “significant improvement in well-being.” The type and quality of screen time also play a role. According to Reid Health, experts say adults should limit screen time outside work to less than two hours daily. Any time beyond what you typically spend on screens should be spent participating in physical activity. This might not be feasible immediately, but there’s still a lot people can do to try to reduce this. Approximately 30% of adults report being online “almost constantly,” highlighting the pervasive nature of digital engagement in contemporary society.

How to Prevent Digital Dementia

  • Limit Screen Time: Set boundaries for screen use and encourage regular breaks, especially during prolonged sessions.
  • Engage in Physical Activity: Regular exercise has been shown to have positive effects on cognitive function, helping to counterbalance the potential negative impacts of excessive screen time.
  • Cognitive Stimulation: Participate in activities that challenge the brain, such as puzzles, games, and social interactions.
  • Establish Healthy Sleep Habits: Ensure a good night’s sleep by maintaining a consistent sleep schedule and creating a conducive sleep environment.
  • Educate and Raise Awareness: Promote awareness of the potential risks associated with excessive screen time and educate individuals about the importance of a balanced lifestyle.

Livewell Estates: A Specialised Approach to Dementia Care

At Livewell Estates, we recognise the importance of providing a holistic and specialised approach to dementia care. Our facility goes beyond traditional care by offering multiple cognitive stimulating activities and a carefully crafted memory care activities program designed by an occupational therapist. We know that sedentary behaviours, including excessive use of the computer and watching TV, increase overall dementia risk. Unlike some senior care facilities where residents may spend hours in front of a television, we prioritise engaging activities that cater to the individual needs of our elderly residents. Through a commitment to comprehensive care, we aim to enhance our residents’ overall well-being and cognitive health, fostering a vibrant and fulfilling living experience.

In conclusion, while “digital dementia” is not a recognised medical term, research suggests that excessive screen time can contribute to cognitive changes reminiscent of traditional dementia. Taking proactive steps to limit screen time, engage in cognitive activities, and prioritise a balanced lifestyle can help mitigate potential risks. Livewell Estates stands as a testament to the importance of specialised dementia care that focuses on cognitive stimulation and overall well-being for elderly residents.