The internet is a wonderful place, with answers and information readily available at your fingertips, but is it the reason you're forgetful?

According to a recent study by Herbalife, 14 per cent of young people are increasingly experiencing memory loss and other symptoms of dementia common in old age - the internet and technology may be to blame.

'Digital dementia' - a term used to describe the phenomenon of the over-use of technology - causes cognitive problems in the brain such as a lack of empathy,
memory loss, irritability, and changes in interpersonal behaviour.

While it is not a diagnosable disease, prolonged use of smartphones, iPads, laptops and devices with LCD screens increases the chance of experiencing 'digital dementia'.


UCLA psychiatry professor and Herbalife member of the nutrition advisory board Dr Gary Small said digital dementia is common among youth and those who are constantly engaged in technology.

"New technology is not only changing our lives, it's also changing our brains," Small said.

A study conducted in Taiwan on over 500 full-time office workers aged between 25 and 45, found 78 per cent agreed that their smartphones were detrimental to their memory.

Sixty per cent of those said they often forgot their personal belongings and 52 per cent temporarily forgot their plans due to smartphone distractions.

Dr Small warned that technology poses the risk of interrupting emotional and social intelligence, which is a hug cause for concern.

"If you're playing the same violent video game for 14 hours a day, that's not going to be good. Other studies show excessive screen time is associated with worse symptoms of attention deficit and, in children, worse performance at school."

The first step to combat and minimise the possibility of 'digital dementia' is to educate young people.

The influence technology has on digital natives is good, but it has to be used with caution, he said.

This risk of developing lack of empathy is his biggest cause for concern.


"[Pro-longed use of devices] could cause a problem with emotional intelligence and create a generation of less empathic individuals," he said.

"When these millennials grow up will they not notice subtle emotional cues during conversation? When they become politicians and lead our nations, will we have less empathic leaders because of this age of digital-mania?"

He said it is important for parents and caregivers to understand the effects of prolonged use of technology and make it known to their children.

"We have to look at it systematically," he said. "I think there is a huge concern for parents and a concern for society as to what goes on to stimulate a young mind and what kind of exposure this brings."

Dr Gary Small.
Dr Gary Small.

The term 'digital dementia' was coined a few years ago in South Korea when doctors reported seeing young patients with memory and cognitive problems.

Dr Small said the inability to have proper face-to-face conversations, maintain eye contact, recognise emotional expression in the face, or pickup non-verbal cues during conversations, are warning signs.

"Many parents use devices just as the way people would use pacifiers, to just kind of keep the kids quiet," he said. While some groups in the US believe children under the age of two years old should not be exposed to technology.

Small said the first step to combat and minimise the possibility of 'digital dementia' is to educate young people.

"It's important to have conversations with them about how it affects them. I think they are very interested in it."