Can excessive screen time cause “digital dementia”?

Can excessive screen time cause “digital dementia”?

As digital technology invades all our living spaces, both work and leisure, several studies note that overuse of screens could promote a certain cognitive decline. Is digital dementia possible? The question begins to arise.

Dementia is an umbrella term that describes a decline in the ability to think and affects memory, language and reasoning, due to changes in the brain. But if the term is generally associated with aging and certain pathologies such as Alzheimer’s disease, it could now be attached to the excessive use of screens, under the term “digital dementia” already used by some experts.

Is digital dementia a real disease?

Digital dementia is a term coined by German neuroscientist and psychiatrist Manfred Spitzer in 2012, to describe cognitive changes resulting from excessive use of technology. It is not listed as a real health problem to date and cannot be diagnosed or quantified. However, several studies carried out in recent years have revealed a harmful effect of screens on the cognitive abilities of users:

  • A 2022 study explored the impact of sedentary behaviors, including computer use and watching TV, on overall dementia risk. According to the results, more time spent in passive cognitive behaviors like watching TV led to an increased risk of dementia. Passive but cognitively active activities, such as computer use, were associated with lower risk of dementia;
  • In another 2023 study, researchers found evidence that excessive screen use negatively impacts executive functioning and working memory in children and adolescents;
  • Finally, another large study published in 2023 analyzed the relationship between sedentary screen activities and dementia risk in more than 462,000 participants. Study results found that more than 4 hours of screen time per day was associated with an increased risk of vascular dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and all-cause dementia among participants.

What are the known symptoms of digital dementia?

Digital dementia is therefore not a diagnosable disease as it stands. However, according to experts, certain symptoms can be similar to those of dementia when the use of digital tools is too present:

  • Short-term memory problems;
  • Lose or forget things easily;
  • Difficulty remembering words;
  • Difficulties with multitasking;
  • Difficulty concentrating or reasoning;
  • Mood changing ;
  • Disturbed sleep.

If this is your case, it is necessary to consider changes in behavior towards screens.

How to prevent digital dementia?

It is impossible today to completely do without the progress that technology offers us. It is not the goal. But fighting against excessive use could reduce the negative impact of screens on the brain. Here are some ideas to achieve this.

  • Limit your notifications : by limiting notifications on your mobile, and only keeping the most urgent, you avoid being constantly interrupted by your device and continuing the connection;
  • Limit the time spent on passive media : this means limiting the time when you are just scrolling through statuses or information. Some applications block these moments. Exercising while watching TV can also be a solution;
  • Find other things to focus on : We reach for our phone or remote control when we are bored. To counter this reflex, have a good book close at hand, or a leisure idea that is easy to implement…;
  • Schedule time to relax and connect : Reducing the time spent in front of a screen does not mean getting rid of it completely. Consider setting aside some time each day to scroll, play video games, or watch TV…but with a timer to stay in control.