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Digital dementia

Timoci Vula
Monday, July 01, 2013

A HEALTH specialist and a local children's support group say the overuse of digital gadgets can hamper the mental and physical growth of children.

This after a new research in South Korea found that increased use of digital devices such as smartphones and iPads can contribute to a new form of a disorder called digital dementia.

According to the Medical Daily, a US-based medical news online publisher, digital dementia is characterised as the deterioration of brain function as a result of the overuse of digital technology such as computers, smartphones and the internet.

The research found that youngsters who relied on technology suffered deterioration in cognitive abilities, most commonly seen in patients who had suffered a head injury or psychiatric illness.

Fiji-based HELP a Child Trust founder Chandar Shekhar said addiction to such gadgets would pose more problems than a mental one.

Mr Shekhar said it was inevitable that with the development of technology, it would become more available in Fiji and attract the younger generation.

He said while it was good to advance with digital technology, how much time one spends with it was important.

Spending too much time with digital gadgets did not help one's full development.

The study revealed that teenagers, who had become so reliant on digital technology, were no longer able to remember everyday details, even simple things such as their phone numbers.

"Overuse of smartphones and game devices hampers the balanced development of the brain," Byun Gi-won, a doctor at the Balance Brain Centre in Seoul, told AP.

"Heavy users are likely to develop the left side of their brains, leaving the right side untapped or underdeveloped."

It also cited researchers who said the right side of the brain was linked with concentration and, when it was underdeveloped, could affect attention and memory span.

"In 15 per cent of cases, this can lead to the early onset of dementia. In addition to messing with memory, digital overuse is also connected with emotional underdevelopment, with children more at risk than adults as their brains are still growing," it reported.

The findings come after a US study published earlier this year found young people were increasingly suffering memory problems, with 14 per cent of people aged between 18 and 39 complaining that their memory was poor.

Mr Shekhar said parents in Fiji should control how much time a child spends with digital technology and on the internet.

"If we totally give in and let these technologies manipulate and manage our own lifestyle, definitely it will become a problem for us," Mr Shekhar said.

"And it is quite becoming noticeable these days that our younger generation, children are very much getting addicted to these technologies like these electronic games.

"Adapting to new technology is very good but it could be very hazardous and dangerous if we don't manage it well. As doctors have said, it will have a negative effect on the cognitive behaviour.

"The use of this device is inevitable but we should manage it and make sure our brain gets full exercise in terms of being used so that the development of the brain is there and it is fully functional.

"I would say not to fully rely on these gadgets but also use other methods of thinking and doing things together so our brain is given more exercise and it is fully utilised."

The Ministry of Health's national adviser on non-communicable diseases, Dr Isimeli Tukana, said digital technology hampered the physical acitivity of people.

He said they found an increasing alarming trend of children sitting idle with their digital gadgets.

"It is an interesting study because Korea is very well ahead with the digitalisation era, which has just started in Fiji. So it will be very good to keep a close watch on that study. As in any other development, overuse of technology also has its disadvantages so we should be looking closely at that study in Korea to help us make some decisions on our front," Dr Tukana said.

"Here in Fiji, it (overuse of digital device) has cut down their physical activity, they are not as playful as our generation, they are more digitalised."

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