awareness raising

Digital Dementia Surging Among Young Electronics Users

I just sent this out to my volunteers at work.  It has some pretty stark implications not only for younger and older generations and when, how and why they use technology, but also how younger and older generations relate to one-another.  Caiti and I are reading Brave New World again (on an iFad, ironically enough)…In “Brave New World Revisited” Aldous Huxley expresses concern that “the world was becoming like Brave New World much faster than he originally thought.”

Digital Dementia Surging Among Young Electronics Users


(taken from the Digital Natives facebook page)


Basically, young people are gaining technological proficiency, but their overuse of information technology comes at the expense of memory loss, stunted emotional development, and inability to focus.


Wikipedia’s defines dementia as “a serious loss of global cognitive ability in a previously unimpaired person, beyond what might be expected from normal aging. It may be static, the result of a unique global brain injury, or progressive, resulting in long-term decline due to damage ordisease in the body. Although dementia is far more common in the geriatric population (about 5% of those over 65 are said to be involved),[1] it can occur before the age of 65, in which case it is termed “early onset dementia”.[2]

The “digital dementia” in the news article may be a new form of “early onset dementia” that specifically impacts young people who grow up surrounded by — and dependent on — modern information technology (e.g., TVs, computers, video games, smart phones, etc) all the time.  It speaks toward the need to limit young people’s exposure to information technology while their brains and bodies are still developing.  This stands in direct contrast, for example, to how technology companies, educational researchers and media outlets such as US News and World Report advocate for more “technology in the classroom.”  Are they encouraging the development of early onset dementia in young people?

Meanwhile, what does this all mean for older adults?  ABC reports on a study that indicates use of information technology may be help prevent or delay dementia in older adults.  The study concludes:  “Older men who use computers have lower risk of receiving a diagnosis of dementia up to 8.5 years later. Randomised trials are required to determine if the observed associations are causal.”

My conclusions:  Young people actually shouldn’t be using computers that much.  Older people might benefit from computer use in a variety of ways, though.  In addition to its cognitive benefits, it can help people who are isolated or immobilized retain important social contact with friends and family.

2 thoughts on “Digital Dementia Surging Among Young Electronics Users

  1. Personally I think it wrong to use the word “dementia” for this new technology-driven condition. When the brain is not used it won’t develop and becomes less efficient, but it can be reversed. Dementia is a permanent non-reversible condition that is the curse of sufferer and all those around them, the use of this word in a false context is callous and confuses the seriousness of dementia.

    This article reminded me of Plato when he argued against writing saying it caused laziness and forgetfulness. Technology makes people lazy rather than suffer from dementia.

    • Hi Alex, thanks for writing! I appreciate your sensitivity toward those who suffer from one form of dementia or another. Dementia has many different causes and origins. Depending on the type of dementia, it can be either “reversible” or “irreversible.”

      I agree, that irreversible dementia is, obviously, a more disconcerting condition on an acute, individual level. Digital dementia is too complex to label it as simply “reversible.” I agree that it is generally more reversible than, say, Alzheimer’s-related dementia. But given its impact on young minds and bodies during their intense formative stages, there can be permanent damage similar to alcohol or other drug abuse. Brain plasticity rapidly deteriorates as bodies age. If a young person’s formative years are defined by digital dementia via rampant technology use, it is conceivable that their mind will be more-or-less formed into a mold that includes elements of permanent, irreversible digital dementia, even if the cause is removed. Removal of the cause is unlikely given the current state of our society in its promotion of technology.

      On top of all this, we must take into account, by virtue of its etiology, how widespread “digital dementia” is among today’s youth. Nowhere in our history has any form of dementia (or dementia-like symptoms) impacted such a large portion of a given population. Given it is a generational issue, too, we will see further social impacts as today’s youth mature and take on the responsibilities of leadership in their communities. It begs the question as to whether we are raising the future leaders of our communities in a way that saddles them with a range of permanent cognitive disabilities. I hope not — I hope it is fully reversible (acute exposure appears to be), and that adults take responsibility for allowing this to happen to their youth and start removing the causes to give youth a chance at full cognitive development.

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