Overuse of technology can lead to 'digital dementia,' experts say

The digital reality that we live in today is that screens are everywhere. From shows to games and social media apps children and teens find a way to get their hands on screens.

“It’s new and it’s really scary but we want to be empowered to change it,” said Dr. Ana-Maria Temple.

The Charlotte-based pediatrician says digital dementia is a relatively new term that the era of technology has brought about. The overuse of technology can lead to a break down in cognitive abilities among children and teens who are exposed to too much screen time.

“The MRI scans of older adults with Alzheimer’s look a certain way and now we are seeing some of those findings with teens who are on social media many hours a day,” said Temple.

For toddlers and teens, the brain goes through tremendous changes which is why she stresses it’s important to rein in screen time.

“What you’ll see with people in dementia is they’re hunched over and have poor focus and memory and they have trouble recalling things. They may even be very tired and lack motivation and that’s what we are seeing in some of our teens,” Temple explained.

Other potential issues that have ties to excessive screen time can include ADHD and depression. Temple says these diagnoses have jumped over the years.

It’s part of why Temple is on a mission to empower and teach families in her practice about digital dementia.

While it’s tempting to put a toddler in front of a phone, it’s not a long term solution and screens shouldn’t be treated as babysitters.

Temple starts the conversation about screen time at an early age.

“It’s very tempting if they have a screen or a phone in front of them I could get everything done and cook and clean but we try not to do that and come up with other ideas,” said Kelley Gilbert.

Her children see Dr. Temple. Evy, 3, and her big brother Gavin, 5, are growing every day and every day Gilbert works to keep them occupied and away from screens.

“I wasn’t familiar with digital dementia but I think it’s something we need to be aware of because it can have damaging and long-lasting effects,” said Gilbert.

The topic can be touchy among her mom friends.

“It can be hard because you don’t want to make anyone feel like they’re doing something wrong as a mom but it does come up with how attached kids get to their screens and trying to come up with activities for them,” Gilbert explained.

She tries to involve her kids in the kitchen whether it’s cutting up an avocado with a butter knife or making homemade cards for birthdays she’s always trying to mix it up.

Temple recommends zero screen time for children two and under. For kids 11 and under it should be limited to no more than one hour of social screen time and for teens a maximum of two hours.

Her prescription for the problem is to cut back on use and it starts with the parents.

“Kids don’t listen to what we say, but they do exactly what they see us do,” said Temple.

If parents can put down their phones and close social media apps it is a good start she says.

“We know where it is coming from so we can do something about it and parents need to put limits on it,” said Temple.