Digital Dementia: Do You or Your Child Have It?

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Digital Dementia - Do You Have It?

Have you heard about digital dementia? What about “tech trance” or “computer coma?” These are real concerns that health practitioners are seeing around the world . . . and health problems that are starting to be backed up by science.

We are all spending more time on screens than ever before – smart phones, computers, tablets, smart watches, e-readers, etc.  Even basic toddler toys now have screens in them.

All these screens are creating a new health crisis: digital dementia.

It is affecting our brain, causing problems for children and adults alike. We are literally losing brain function and, in some cases, brain size. This is a result of multiple factors that center around using screens: addiction, loss of one-on-one social interaction, exposure to EMFs and wireless radiation, and the effects of the blue light being emitted from these devices.

If you want to become less addicted, less anxious, less anti-social, and rebuild your brain, read on to find out more. As I explain the problems and the strategies for change, learn how you can make changes for yourself and your family.


Like the name sounds, “digital dementia” is not unlike typical dementia which until more recently was mostly found in the elderly. It can include a wide variety of symptoms including brain fog, poor memory recall, poor focus, forgetfulness and confusion, anxiety, and easily being distracted – all things we normally associate with dementia.

However, it can be much more than that and include lack of motivation, depression or suicidal thoughts, behavior disorders, and lack of empathy. Uncoordinated movement patterns and developmental delays in children can occur as well.

Clinically, it has been found that too much digital stimulation causes the left hemisphere of the brain to be more dominant than the right hemisphere. This in turn causes your immune system to be overactive, resulting in chronic inflammation in different parts of the body, food sensitivities, autoimmune conditions, allergies and even asthma.

Some studies have even found a direct correlation between how much time is spent on screen-related activities and ADHD.


I still remember as a young girl watching television with my brothers and my mother getting angry because we could not peel our eyes away from the screen. My mother called our TV “the almighty box.” We just would not listen to what she was saying until she turned it off.

Fast forward to today where we are all exposed to multiple screens a day; the problem is compounded. In addition to TVs, there are smart phones, tablets and iPads, iPods, smart watches, e-readers, gaming systems, etc. all which allow you to watch, text, post to social media, email, surf, and play using screens.

The use of these devices and the screens themselves are literally dumbing us down because our deep thinking is not engaged. Over time, this can create digital dementia.

On-line shopping, binge watching programs, instant notification, etc. all program you to expect other parts of your life to happen automatically, making the human-to-human ways of socializing seem slow and boring. This is compounded by the constant distraction that occurs when using multiple platforms or screens at one time.

Let me explain the four main issues of too much screen use, which can all contribute to digital dementia.

#1 – Screen Addiction

When we are constantly surfing, skimming, and scanning for the next bit of news or information, it can weaken our neural pathways that support deeper thinking and creative thinking. Plus, it literally rewires our brain to constantly seek the next thing instead of enjoying the moment.

Children, teenagers and adults alike are becoming hard-wired to desire instant gratification.

In fact, as of 2018, the average American teenager with a smart phone received it at the age of 10 and spends over 4.5 hours a day on it. (This includes gaming, social media and other uses outside of homework and excludes texting and talking). Here is a great graphic showing how teens are using their cell phones.

College students are reported to spend an average of 9 hours per day on their handheld devices.

Anna Lembke with Stanford University Medical Center, who has studied both substance abuse and technology, has shown a very clear connection between screens and addiction. She found that the way we absorb the cool blue glow of a screen is similar to what a drug user may feel – the use of a smart phone lights up the same area of the brain as opioids and cannabis. It creates a dopamine response and leaves you wanting more, not unlike a drug addict always looking for the next “fix.” Some of us literally “need” to be on our device.

We now know that constant overuse of screens:

  • changes the neurotransmitters in our gut and our brain which in turn creates addiction and modifies our behavior: giving us more anxiety, making us feel less happy, making us more verbally abusive, and generally creating poor behavior.
  • causes left hemisphere dominance which in turn causes your immune system to be overactive, resulting in chronic inflammation, food sensitivities, autoimmune conditions, allergies, asthma, etc.
  • stunts the growth in certain parts of the brain because we are using less of it when using screens. For example, the prefrontal cortex constantly gets activated but neural connections for deep, intellectual thinking are rarely used when constantly being exposed to stimuli. Just like the muscles in the rest of your body, “if you don’t use it you loose it.”
  • affects our posture, not only because we constantly look forward and down at our devices, known as “text neck,” but also because we are doing less physical activity when continually on our devices. This too affects the health of the brain.
  • affects our vision in multiple ways including dry eyes due to less blinking, higher risk of nearsightedness due to the closeness of the devices, lower integration of vision and motor skills, etc.

If we are having a hard time leaving our digital devices alone as adults, how can we expect our kids to know when to stop?

The pull toward the devices is actually stronger in children because their brains have not fully developed. Even tech gurus such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs did not let their younger children use cell phones or smart devices until they were older. (Many screen-reducing strategies are shared below.)

#2 –  Social Disconnection

I am sure you have seen a group of people sitting at a table in a restaurant and, rather than talking to each other, they are each looking at a device and texting. Or, they are showing each other videos of the latest posts on Instagram.

There is also a real concern in the workforce as the first generations of children raised on more screens and multiple electronic devices are graduating from college. Companies are noticing the difference in social interaction, writing skills, attention spans, etc. as compared to previous generations.

Younger generations are losing the ability to have meaningful face-to-face conversations with other human beings. We are just beginning to learn the importance of human-to-human contact and how critical it is to our overall health and wellbeing. In fact, studies prove that meaningful social interaction with others is crucial to our emotional, mental, spiritual and physical health.

This lack of engagement with others not only contributes to digital dementia, but can lead to depression and an increased risk of suicide, especially for teenagers.

A 2017 study by San Diego State University found that teenagers who spend over 3 hours looking at screens (phones, tablets, and laptops) have a 35% higher risk factor for suicide as compared to those that use the same devices less than one hour per day. If they use these devices 5 or more hours the percentage rises to 71 percent!

Additionally, adults and children today are comparing their life to snippets of things they see on social media, which are only parts of someone else’s life. Teens and younger children get hard-wired to believe their self-worth comes from social media likes, followers, etc. This contributes to the anxiety, depression and other mental health issues discussed above.

#3 – EMFs and Wireless Radiation

Digital dementia has become more of a concern since the introduction of cell phones, cell towers, and other wireless technologies. In addition to the screen itself, we need to be aware of the electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) and the wireless (Wi-Fi) radiation these devices emit.

There are thousands of studies from scientists all over the world who have shown the detrimental affects of EMFs and Wi-Fi radiation. We also know that children absorb the radiation in higher amounts than adults, mainly because they have a higher percentage of water in their body. Plus, their brains and sculls are less developed so they are more affected by the direct use of cell phones, Bluetooth headphones, etc.

I see the health effects of EMFs and wireless technology regularly in my practice. Some practitioners are even using the term “Wi-Fi disease.” We need to be concerned.

Studies have proven that EMFs, Wi-Fi and devices such as smart phones affect our health in many ways as explained in more detail here. When it comes to the brain, we now know that EMFs and wireless radiation compromise the blood-brain barrier, interfere with neural pathways, alter neurotransmitters, affect hormones such as melatonin and cortisol, create more oxidative stress, deplete nutrients like minerals and zinc, etc.

Additionally, we know that wireless technology can effect the development of a baby in utero due to the affects on the fetus. Wi-Fi radiation can create cognitive deficiencies and learning problems, result in memory and attention problems, decrease motor function and reaction time, increase hyperactivity, etc.

To reduce exposure to EMFs and wireless radiation, keep your devices in airplane mode as much as possible, limit your use of Bluetooth, and never use a device when it is charging. (I explain this in more detail here.) This is especially important when a child is holding and using a device. For example, a movie or game should be fully downloaded before watching/using and if you are going to call or video chat with someone be sure to lean the device up against something (not hold it in your hand).

Even smart TVs typically give off a 9-foot plum of EMFs so do not let your children sit too close and definitely keep TVs out of a bedroom. Additional tips to reduce EMFs and wireless radiation can be found here.

#4- Additional Effects of Blue Light

We need to be conscious of the blue light emitted from screen-related devices as well. Besides the addiction and neurotransmitter connection discussed above, we know that this blue light affects the pineal gland and suppresses the production of melatonin in the brain. This in turn affects the quality of your sleep, your circadian rhythm overall, and even how your brain detoxifies while you sleep, which all can lead to digital dementia over time.

The good news is that you can now reduce the blue light on most devices, often though the “settings” feature. (Some devices are better at this than others.) Other options include (1) downloading f.lux which allows you to have more control over blue light settings and (2) wearing blue-blocking glasses such as those found on this site. (There are many cool-looking blue-blocking glasses available on-line but they do not have to be expensive to work.)

The key is to reduce your exposure to blue light at night. However, some people are more affected than others and may need to adjust their screens or use blue-blocking glasses throughout the day.


Think about this past week. How often you were on a screen-related device? It could be a television, desktop computer or laptop, tablet or e-reader, smart phone, iPod, gaming system, smart watch, or other handheld electronic device.

How much did you watch, text, post, play or surf? How much screen time did your children or grandchildren have?

Track Your Usage

If you don’t already know, I would suggest you take a week and track your usage. You will probably be surprised! In fact, it has been found that most people think they are on their devices half the amount of time they actually are.

Newer cellphones include an app that allows you to track usage. Being more aware will help you create better habits. It may also make you more motivated to make some changes, especially if you do not already have some personal and family rules in place.

Screen-reducing Strategies

The key is to limit screen time so that the brain is allowed to slow down, more human interactions occur, better communication skills develop, and overall you give yourself a break. Adults and children alike need this time off.

I have found that even children can see the difference in themselves, and are almost thankful, when they are forced to limit screen time. Most children and adolescents literally cannot limit themselves.

The strategies for change listed below are more global concepts that you need to consider before creating more specific rules as discussed in the next section. Keeping the bedrooms device free, especially while sleeping, is especially important.

Model Behavior: Walk the walk. Parents should model the use of fewer devices. Make a point of not using your device during certain times of the day and putting the device down and out of sight when your child needs to speak with you. Research shows that just holding a cell phone in your hand during a social interaction, reduces the quality of the conversation.

Other suggestions include keeping paper to-do lists and calendars, turning off non-essential notifications, uninstalling social media apps, setting a timer to limit use, and setting aside specific times to check emails.

Hold Off Introducing Devices: If you still have young children in the house, hold off introducing them to screens of any kind as long as possible and, when you do, keep strict time limits. For example, our son has known from a young age that a smart phone is not an option until at least highschool. (An iPod with a texting/calling app or a “dumb phone” like gabb wireless can be an interim solution.) Also, be sure to put any device on airplane mode (with all antennas turned off as explain here) before letting a child use a device.

Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics, who updated their guidelines in 2016, recommends the following:

  • Children under the age of 18 months should not use digital media, except for the occasional video chatting. (Do not let them hold the device when in use; prop it up against something at a distance.)
  • Children ages 18-24 months should have limited exposure and only to high quality developmental programs while viewing with a parent (not left alone with a device).
  • Children ages 2-5 years should spend one hour or less per day on a screen of any type.
  • Children ages 5 and up should be closely monitored by parents to limit use, track inappropriate content, watch for effects on other areas of life, etc.

Monitor Their Time: Even as teenagers, kids don’t yet have boundaries and don’t know how to set them for themselves. The addictiveness of the device is also a large factor. It is up to the parents to set limits. Instead of constant monitoring and negotiation, use a “parental control” app to limit time on a device. (There are many options available on-line.) For example, you can use an app to limit smart phone use to one hour per day; it can be used to surf the web, play games, go on social media but after one hour of use, everything gets wiped off with the exception of the phone and texting.

Device-Free Bedrooms: Keeping electronic devices out of the bedroom provides multiple benefits, including better sleep. As explained above, the blue light emitted from a digital screen affects your pineal gland and melatonin production, which eventually affects your sleep patterns. Sleep is especially important for growing children but also essential for good health.

The Wi-Fi radiation emitted from wireless devices, such as cell phones, tablets, and Bluetooth headphones/speakers, affect your sleep too. Instead, keep larger electronics like computers and TVs in main areas of the house where they can be monitored.

If hand-held and wireless devices are used in the bedroom during the day, they should all be removed at night. It is not unusual for adolescents to get up at all times of the night to check incoming notifications. Charge all electronics away from bedrooms and put them in airplane mode whenever possible. Just as important: turn off Wi-Fi routers at night. (For other tips to limit devices in the bedroom and throughout the house, see this article here.)

Set Personal and Family Rules

As we spend more time on devices, there is less time for non-screen activities such as sports and exercise, reading print media, spending time outdoors, doing media-free homework, and just spending quality time with family and friends.

Below are additional strategies to help you and your family set limits on a daily basis. Modify them as necessary based on your needs and the age of your children.

Eat Device-Free: Make family meals device-free. That also means no devices in the room where you eat so you are not temped to look at it when you get a notification. Better yet, put it on airplane mode. You also have the added benefits of better digestion (with fewer interruptions) and honing the art of one-on-one conversation. Better food choices are also usually made when you are device-free and not eating mindlessly.

One Device at a Time: If kids had their way (and some adults too), they would watch TV and play a game on their handheld device all while monitoring group chats, texts and/or emails. Use one device at a time for less overwhelm.

Play Device-Free: When our son was younger, the rule was no devices when a friend was over. The point of a “play date” was to play and be imaginative. The one exception was watching a movie during a sleepover. Now that he is almost a teenager more screen time occurs when a friend is over, such as playing a shared game or creating a film on iMovie, but it is still limited to only part of the visit.

Drive Device-Free: We have a rule that there are no handheld devices used in the car when we are driving around town. We can use them on airplane mode to listen to a podcast or music together, but no screen time. Instead, it is a time for our eyes to get exercise as we look at things inside and outside of the vehicle. If we are on a longer road trip, we put some rules and time limits in place before heading out the door. The most important rule is all devices must be on airplane mode so that we do not have multiple wireless signals bouncing around the car while driving.

Shop Device-Free: Wherever you are shopping, it is another opportunity for social interaction with real people so there should be no devices in hand. Kids should not be left on the car on their devices. There are lots to observe and life skills to be learned as you walk through the store or mall. It is also a great break for your eyes and a chance to exercise them with so much to see, both at far distances and close up.

Limit Social Media: Whether texting or posting and checking Instagram, social media is one of the key ways friends today stay connected. However, it can easily get out of hand. As a family, set rules early on as to when they can start having access to these modes of communication. Once they start using them, be sure to set limits. Know your child’s pass code so you can do random checks and make sure you are able to join their social media platform(s). Also keep track of drastic changes in moods, anxiety levels, sleep patterns, school grades, etc.

Limit Gaming Devices: It is often easier for everyone involved not to have a gaming device in the house. It can be difficult to constantly regulate its use. If you do have one, consider keeping the games to nonviolent types. Also know that if your gaming device can be connected to friends through Wi-Fi, you need to unplug it from the wall when not in use. (The newer devices constantly transmit Wi-Fi radiation even when turned off.)

When selecting video games and apps available for hand held devices, there are two helpful Websites: Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) and Common Sense Media. Both sites provide rating systems. ESRB also includes information on setting parental controls on various devices.

Limit Devices in Schools: This is a little harder to control. Most schools already have wireless systems in place to teach lessons digitally using monitors and tablets. If each child also brings a cell phone to school, that increases exposure to both screens and Wi-Fi radiation exponentially. Encourage your children’s school to have a “turn-off cell phone” policy and encourage your child to leave their phone at home or at least put it on airplane mode while carrying it around. (Learn more about EMFs in schools here.)

Create Digital Detox Moments: Rather than always trying to control the screens, create more device-free activities in the house. Create new habits and set certain ground rules like those below.

  • Take family walks – no devices allowed
  • Read together – read real books, not from a device with a screen
  • Create a game night – play board games or card games one evening a week
  • Unstructured play – send your kids outside for a certain amount of time each day
  • Physical activity – set up your house (indoor and outdoor) with activities like a mini-trampoline, tree swing or zip line, basketball hoop, free weights, and other fun things to do. Studies have shown that exercise increases brain size. (Some are also linking obesity to overuse of screens and devices.)
  • Be in Nature – Something as simple as walking barefoot in the grass or leaning up against a tree helps undo some of the damage created by constant exposure to technology. (You can learn more about daily EMF detoxing here.)

Even better, schedule specific “digital detox days.” Commit to turning off all electronics for a certain number of hours a day, or one day a week, or one weekend each month. Do this with a group of friends or as a family and you will have the added benefit of real social interaction. Try it. You will be surprised how relaxing it can be!


Technology is not all bad. It can help us in many ways, but it should not take over our lives or hurt us physically. Smart phones have only been around for about 10 years and we have yet to know the true long-term effects of electronic screens.

Protect yourself from digital dementia. Use the ideas above to create a better balance of electronics and real-life activities in your life and in your family’s life. See what works for you, but, most importantly, stick to your rules and don’t be swayed by what other people or families are doing.

If you have older children, make sure they know why you are making the changes: overall health, brain development, mental health, social skills, etc. You want to set them up for long-term success and supply them with healthy habits for a lifetime.

If the lists above seem too overwhelming, take one step at a time. Every change in the right direction is helpful. Getting good sleep is another crucial component of good brain health, so creating a safe haven in the bedroom is a great first step.

Being in nature, exercising, working with your hands, and socializing all help to stimulate your brain and help it create new neuron connections, especially if done repeatedly. The bottom line is that the less you are on a screen and the more you are engaged in the world, your brain will benefit.

For more information on how to reduce EMFs and wireless radiation in your life, click here for links to additional articles about how to reduce devices in your home, electronics in schools, protect yourself from smart meters, limit dirty electricity and much more.

This article was written by Sharon Harmon, founder of Life Design for Health. As a “Health Designer” she has a passion for helping people find their way back to optimum health. Please contact her if you would like to know more. There is a great deal of health-related information in her blog articles and on her website. Including additional suggested resources (books and articles) by topic, a pantry list that is gluten-free, dairy free and GMO-free, and a healing foods list.

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