Excessive screen time can lead to depression, dementia-like symptoms, neuroscientists warn


The last few decades have seen an explosion in the availability of electronic devices which enable us to stay ‘plugged in’ to the digital world for virtually our entire waking lives. Now, researchers in Japan, the longtime home to some of the most advanced consumer-level electronics, warn about the serious consequences of this information overload.

The excessive use of smartphones and computers can overwhelm our brains and cause symptoms similar to dementia and depression, neurosurgeon Ayu Okumura, director of the Okumura Memory Clinic in Gifu, Japan, has warned.

Speaking to Nikkei Style, the neurosurgeon pointed out that in the past decade or so, more and more people in their thirties, forties and fifties have turned to his practice complaining of memory impairment. The doctor says these symptoms are associated with excessive use of electronic devices, and the brain’s exhaustion from an inability to cope with the information flow.

“When the amount of input information increases, it overflows as the brain can no longer cope with processing it, and turns into a garbage dump,” Okumura said, summing up the problem.

For his part, Dr. Yoshikuni Edagawa, a neuroscientist from Waseda University in Tokyo who specializes in neurodegenerative processes, says that the prefrontal cortex of the frontal lobe is responsible for organizing information, thinking, decision making, memory and control of emotions and that, when overloaded, major consequences are in store.

Edagawa explains that as the brain is overwhelmed, the function of the prefrontal cortex declines, and problems such as poor learning function, frustration, anger, and lack of motivation and interest arise, similarly to how they would in a patient suffering from early dementia or depression.

To avoid these potentially symptoms, the doctor advises giving the brain a rest, reducing the time that one spends using digital devices, getting enough sleep, and even creating ‘smartphone-free’ areas in your home, including the bathroom, bedroom and kitchen.

For his part, Okumura recommends against attempting to multitask by say, using a smartphone simultaneously while watching TV. Even a 15-minute break at work could be enough, the doctor believes. “Even if you just sit in your chair, close your eyes, correct your posture and focus on breathing for about 5 minutes, your Default Mode Network will be effective,” he said, referring to the crucial network of interacting brain regions which remain active even when a person is not focused on the outside world.

More and more evidence has emerged in recent years about the potential harmful effects living in an always-connected, always-online world, with study after study suggesting that more screen time may be linked with brain development issues in children, depression and other serious problems. Worse yet, some experts have compared digital devices’ impact on our brain to drug addiction. Nevertheless, humanity continues to forge ahead with new, untested technologies, including the futuristic 5G wireless internet-based ‘internet of things’, which promises to change our lives, and the global economy, forever.