Digital Dementia

Dr. Doug Fryday
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A modern day health concern
A modern day health concern

There is no question that recent advancements in technology are beneficial to the advancement of society in an economic and business sense, but is it at the expense of our health? Millennials are the first generation in history to be exposed to screens and mobile devices throughout all stages of their physiological development. The long-term health effects of these changes are largely still unknown, the science in its infancy. The latest research from Korea suggests smartphones, tablets, gaming devices, computers and other digital devices could be erasing our short-term memory, especially in teens and young adults who are attached to their devices upwards of seven hours a day. It is estimated 1.8 billion people own smartphones and use it daily, with the average person checking their phone 150 times a day. Our society’s addiction to technology is literally causing the short-term memory pathways in our brains to deteriorate because of lack of use, robbing children of the necessary components of development. There are four critical factors necessary to achieving healthy childhood development – movement, touch, human connection and exposure to nature. These types of sensory inputs ensure normal development of posture and the brain, and are necessary for achieving foundational skills of human development.

Autonomic Nervous System

The autonomic nervous system is the part of the brain that runs the show in the background and has a gas pedal, which is called the sympathetic nervous system, and a brake, which is called the parasympathetic nervous system. The gas pedal is our survival nervous system and is referred to as our ‘fight or flight’ nervous system. The brake is the ‘rest and digest’ relaxation response part of the nervous system, where all healing takes place. When your body (the car) is running smoothly and optimally, the gas pedal comes on when it needs to speed up and the brake is applied when it needs to slow down. When the gas and brake are working in harmony we have optimal function, which is health. Anything less has the potential for disease. The problem occurs when the gas pedal (sympathetic nervous system) gets ‘stuck’ because of chronic recurrent stress, requiring the brain to respond as if every external stimulus in life was a threat. This becomes a habit and I call this ‘Pedal to the Metal Syndrome™.’

Fight or flight

When young children are exposed to violence through TV and video games, they are in a high state of stress. These physiologic signs are associated with ‘fight-or-flight’ or a ramped-up autonomic nervous system. With fight-or-flight, the body signals the person to move. Being in this state of stress without being physically active – sitting in front of the TV or computer instead of being outside moving – can have a negative effect on a child’s health. Children who overuse technology report persistent body sensations of overall shaking, increased breathing and heart rate, and a general state of unease – this is anxiety.

Chronic stress associated with sitting with poor posture while interacting with technology results in a weakened immune system, developmental delays and a higher predisposition to obesity, the studies show. When the brain is stressed, your body innately or automatically responds by increasing your heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, respiration rate, sweat glands and dilation of the pupils. Secretion of stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline and epinephrine are turned on and up.

This response can be lifesaving for short periods of time, but if prolonged, without the appropriate relaxation, it will cause a weakening of the heart, shrinkage of the brain and chronic inflammation, which prevents the formation of new neurons in your brain. As you can appreciate, driving at full speed for an indefinite period of time will have destructive effects on the internal structure of a car’s engine. In the body we call this anxiety, a natural internal response to the external stimuli of stress that serves a purpose. This is good for short periods of time because it puts us in a heightened sense of awareness so we’re prepared for potential threats, but is bad if prolonged. Our goal is not to dismiss it entirely, just make it a healthy, manageable part of our lives.

Dr. Doug Fryday
Dr. Doug Fryday

‘Digital Dementia,’ a term coined by top German neuroscientist Manfrid Spitzer in his book of the same name, and it refers to the decline in brain function associated with slouched sedentary posture in front of a screen. Digital Dementia is directly linked to cognitive decline, specifically memory loss, lack of concentration, lack of coordination, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), depression anxiety and anger. Our brains crave movement and complex activation.

Sitting in front of a screen for hours at a time with poor posture is not providing your brain with the complex stimuli it needs to create neuroplastic changes. Performing thought-provoking activities like reading, writing and puzzles are important for brain development. Increased screen time neglects the circuits in the brain that control more traditional methods for learning in the frontal lobe that are typically used for reading, writing and concentration. It’s not enough to sit with poor posture and read all day.

Better brain output is derived from stimulatory brain inputs. Exercise activates the frontal and parietal lobes of your brain, associated with better cognitive development. Research demonstrates that people who engage in regular exercise and who have proper posture have decreased cortisol, the hormone associated with stress, anxiety and weight gain. The opposite is true when sitting or lying on the couch watching an action thriller or a scary movie on your TV or digital device. While seated, the patient’s body releases hormones associated with fight-or-flight and they have higher levels of cortisol.

Their hormones are telling them to move fast, and yet the person continues to remain seated, while overcome with stress and cortisol. This is another sensory disassociation that is diminishing functional output and human development.

By Dr Doug Fryday
Optimize Healing Centre

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