2265 North Clybourn Avenue    Chicago, IL 60614    P: 773.296.6700     F: 773.296.1131

Knowledge Base

Welcome to our extensive library of articles on health concerns and ailments, alternative therapies, nutritional supplements, and much more. Please mouse over the letters to get started. We hope you enjoy browsing.

Digital Excess and Cognitive Decline

Try this experiment. Sit somewhere unobserved, like a Starbuck’s or a doctor’s waiting room, and just watch people. If you see someone sitting alone, likely she’ll be checking her smart phone or laptop or plugging into music. People sitting in groups of two or more will interrupt themselves to glance at their phones, text-checking. If someone’s phone actually rings or vibrates, watch for the sudden startle response, a mini-version of the fight-or-flight response that protects us from muggers and marauding bears, now mainly used for phone answering.

Today, devices seem to always trump personal interaction.

If you think about it, just about everyone in your field of vision does something during the day that involves something digital. Many are engaged in what’s widely called multi-tasking. Of course when we multi-task we don’t really perform two or more tasks at the same moment. We simply spend less time on each effort, incessantly shifting focus and attention. And after a day in the digital world, we return home, where we continue to use our electronic devices for personal use, TV’s 800 cable channels and 50,000 Netflix movies at the ready.

According to the latest data, kids 8 to 18 spend 7.5 hours every day amusing themselves with screen time (TV, video games, phone) and listen to most of their music (and conduct phone conversations) with ear buds in position. This prepares them well for the adult digital life we observed in our earlier Starbuck’s/doctor’s office experiment.

Is a life like this–incessantly audiovisual when young, nonstop screen and phone checking as we get older–“bad” for us? Are there long-term health consequences? Since the digital world that dominates our lives hasn’t been around long, we simply don’t know. But given what we’re observing now, we can make some educated guesses.

Digital-free camping
For example, when psychologists took a group of 20-somethings on a five-day, digital-free camping trip, based on well-conceived psychological testing there was a 50% increase in their creative skills when they returned. You really can’t interpret a study like this to prove that a 24/7 digital world will necessarily result in a decline of creativity, but our minds do need stimulus-free down time to develop new ideas. In a beautiful phraseology, the study’s authors write: “Our modern society is filled with sudden events (sirens, horns, ringing phones, alarms, television, etc.) that hijack attention. By contrast, natural environments are associated with gentle, soft fascination, allowing the executive attentional system to replenish.”

In its own way, being on a nature trip like this, freeing your mind to wander or concentrate as you desire, is similar to practicing mindfulness meditation, a brain exercise anyone can learn that also has been shown to boost creativity.

A lot of research has been done on mindfulness meditation, perhaps most exciting its ability to rewire your brain (no matter how old you are), activating the prefrontal cortex so that your brain functions like that of someone younger than you. Practicing mindfulness meditation also increases connectivity in the very areas affected most dramatically by the cognitive decline of aging and Alzheimer’s. It’s even tempting to conjecture that cognitive decline could be prevented by 15 to 30 minutes of daily mindfulness meditation.

We can’t practice mindfulness meditation and text-check at the same time. The question then might be asked, “Are we even capable of being digital-free for a block of time each day? Is it too late to change?” Apparently, changing is a lot harder than we think.

Digital detox, now with analog games
The New York Times recently reported that an enterprising couple, themselves once severe digital addicts, were organizing device-free “Digital Detox” parties. In addition to the standard party fare of drinks and munchies were all sorts of analog distractions for idle hands, including board games, colored thread for friendship bracelets, and manual typewriters. And yes, it was very (very!) difficult for many people. The reporter writes that a woman who worked the entry door checking in digital devices “thought she had seen the unpretty face of addiction” and withdrawal, with one guest reporting “My whole life is on this phone.”

We really don’t know the long-range effects of 7 ½ hours of daily screen time on young people. Nor do we know what happens to our brains when we’re endlessly interrupted by  miniaturized startle responses. But let’s face facts–it doesn’t sound healthy. Are we in the foothills of a collective cognitive decline, just like we all might be going deaf from ear buds?

I’ve certainly observed the stress response in my patients who come into the examining room having forgotten to turn off their phones. One was in the midst of relating a troubling health issue when her phone rang (I’ve never been able to completely enjoy Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth since phones started blasting it). She embarrassedly fumbled with her handbag to silence the monster. Two minutes later, it rang again. “Damn, I thought I’d turned it off. I’m so sorry.” Now she’s lost track of what she was telling me. Two minutes later, again. Now she’s really startled. “I am so sorry, Dr E, it’s a new phone and I can’t seem to get the off button right.”

These events seems to upset my patients far more than me, but as I sit and watch I worry that anyone could actually live like this. After this visit, my patient will leave the office, turn her phone on (correctly), and all day long be besieged by ringing or by its more ubiquitous cousin, “checking,” “checking,” “checking.”

This might be a good time to consider your own personal digital detox. Immerse yourself in nature by taking a trip or simply going for an untethered walk in the park. Consider a course in mindfulness meditation. Open up a few new brain pathways and…

Be well,

David Edelberg, MD

 

Leave a Comment


  1. Kevin Rogers says:

    Hey Doc

    The great social philosopher Lewis Black has diagnosed smart phone subjection as a obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Hold that thought; I got a call coming in.

    Kevin

  2. Jim Morrin says:

    I wonder if anyone has observed a “volume disorder” that seems to accompany the pattern described in Dr. E’s article. I have noticed (maybe I’m just imagining it) that when the person does finally get connected with the caller, that the ensuing conversation is carried on at a volume as if the participants were sitting about 6 feet away from each other. As a result, anyone nearby can hear one complete side of the conversation — the practice of whispering the personal information has disappeared, and now everyone within earshot is an unwilling participant. I’m tempted to say, “what makes you think I want to be party to your business deal/evening plans, etc? We all get to listen now.

  3. Kay Metis says:

    Interesting… as someone who works in digital health I look forward to hearing more.

  4. JIm Stephens says:

    I’m particularly concerned about children getting the attention they need from their parents…I see many parents at the playground, perhaps distractedly pushing their child on a swing, but talking or texting at the same time…if they are even that engaged.

  5. Elizabeth Lozano says:

    Right on!! Thank you for the reminder as to why I *must* meditate every day.

  6. Dr. E says:

    Hi Jim
    I have an amusing story about “volume related disorder.”
    I was taking the L back from OHare and the man across the aisle, clearly an executive from some company, was explaining, loudly and clearly, his company’s plan for ruining a competitor. Finally, after a full half hour of this of him totally spoiling the book I was trying to read, as I was getting off the train, I went up to him and said (a total fib) that my son was the CFO of his competitor and that I was sure he’d really appreciate this insider information. It was very pleasant to see someone turn ashen as I exited and the doors closed behind me

  7. Addie says:

    A front-page article in the New York Times a year or so ago reported on most Silicon Valley executives enrolling their primary school children in Waldorf schools. These parents didn’t allow their children access to computers until they were 13 or 14. I can’t remember what studies they based their decisions on but it had something to do with early digital contact stifling imagination and creativity.

  8. Barbara Newman says:

    So true! If you really want courage to break your digital addictions, try reading Sherry Turkle’s new book, “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.”

  9. Jim Fitzgerald says:

    If it wasn’t for my iPhone I wouldn’t have read this article!

  10. Wendy says:

    When I wasn’t job searching, I would take a 24 hr period every few months and turn off my phones, and only let myself check for voice messages once or twice a day. I would do the same with tv and computers. Tough, but it was nice to not be on-call with the world for a short while.

  11. Lori Miller says:

    Great article!!! And one reason I have never owned a cell phone.

  12. Ann Raven says:

    I was recently in hospital for 3 days. I didn’t use any digital devices. Even my husband, when he visited me, asked if I didn’t want to hear my favorite radio station which I have on during waking hours at home and in the car. I was quite comfortable being media-free for those days. I had creative thoughts and day-dreams. I enjoyed it!

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, delicious and time-saving recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

BIRTHDAY

Health Tips

Dr. Edelberg’s Health Tips contain concise bits of advice, medical news, nutritional supplement and pharmaceutical updates, and stress relief ideas. With every Health Tip, you’ll also receive an easy, delicious, and healthful recipe.

When you sign up to receive Health Tips, you can look forward to Dr. Edelberg’s smart and very current observations arriving in your in-box weekly. They’re packed with helpful information and are often slightly irreverent. One of the most common responses to the tips is “I wish my doctor talked to me like this!”

Quick Connect

Get One Click Access to our

patient-portal

The Knowledge Base

Patient education is an integral part of our practice. Here you will find a comprehensive collection of staff articles, descriptions of therapies and nutritional supplements, information addressing your health concerns, and the latest research on nutritional supplements and alternative therapies.

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, delicious and time-saving recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

BIRTHDAY

Upcoming Workshops

Shamanic Healing Clinic with Katie Oberlin, HTCP/I
Monday, February 27, 2017, 10:30 am – 6:00 pm

30-Minute Sessions ~ $35.00 (regularly $50.00)

Harness the power of nature. Connect with your inner wisdom. Take a journey to welcome back parts of you that have been left behind. Learn about the oldest form of spirituality and healing on the planet.
More>>

 

Facial Guasha Class
The Ultimate DIY Anti-Aging Facial!

Join us and learn a traditional Chinese facial rejuvenation technique that you can do yourself!

Facial guasha is an easy to learn technique that:
* encourages blood flow and promotes radiance
* prevents wrinkles
* activates cells to regain facial elasticity
* drains fluids to detoxify skin and reduce puffiness
* sloughs off dead skin cells
* uplifts and tones skin
* firms up facial muscles
* minimizes dark circles
* promotes a healthy, younger and more radiant look

Your skin will thank you and will look more radiant, smooth and younger!

When: Monday, March 20th, 7-8:30
Where: WholeHealth Chicago, 2265 N. Clybourn Avenue
Cost: $50 includes guasha tool and anti-aging facial oil

Space is limited, pre-registration required by calling 773-296-6700.
More>>

Recent Health Tips

  • Worrisome Dementia Report For Women and Steps To Take

    Worrisome Dementia Report For Women and Steps To Take

    We’ve always known there was a higher rate of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias in women than in men, initially attributed to the fact that women live longer and that the decline in mental function occurred with age. This turned out to be wrong. At …Read More »
  • Nutritional Supplement Shotgun Therapy

    Nutritional Supplement Shotgun Therapy

    I once had a new patient arrive with her forms completed, a stack of medical records under her arm, and a large bulging gym bag in tow, saying “I brought all the supplements I’m taking. I’m hoping you can suggest a few I might not …Read More »

March Sale: 20% Off SophytoPRO Skin Care Products

Topical Functional Skincare For Total Skin Transformation
SophytoPRO products are topical supplements that support good microbiome and healthy skin function.  More>>