Is your smart phone ruining your memory & making you less smart?

— by Adrienne Wyper

Photo: Centre for Ageing Better



Cast your mind back to a time before smartphones, when instead of tapping away on your small screen, we did mental arithmetic to split a restaurant bill or work out our earnings, carried a map to find our way, used a pen and paper – or relied on our memory – to take notes or jot down reminders. (Remember the Filofax, must-have accessory of the 80s?!) We kept up with current events via newspapers, TV and radio, discovered what our friends and family were up to by actually talking to them (and knew their phone numbers off-by-heart), and had to leave the house to buy things. And we daydreamed, staring into space, rather than mindlessly scrolling through social media.

It’s quite telling about how much we take smartphones for granted, isn’t it, that I had to really think about how we used to do this stuff.

Now we can do all this on our smartphones. And of course, all that functionality at your fingertips frees up time to do other things. Or does it? Brits spent an average of three hours and 46 minutes a day on their smartphones last year


Your memory and your mobile

All that convenience could come at another cost. ‘Digital dementia’, a term coined in 2012 by neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer, describes how over-use of digital technology can affect our cognitive ability and memory. This may be more of a problem for younger people, as they have always lived with smartphones, whereas I managed for around four decades without one.

Since I came across that term ‘digital dementia’ recently, I’ve been actively trying to rely less on my smartphone for tasks such as navigating, instead using my memory for places I’ve been before, and clues around me, such as street maps, or even asking someone. And for questions like ‘what have I seen that actor in?’ I’ve tried to think about it, at least for a while, rather than instantly whipping out my phone. Sometimes it works! There are some more cutting-down-on-phone-use tips in a previous feature of mine.


Signing up for a study

While I was researching this blog post, I joined a study by the University of Exeter in partnership with King’s College London and the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. They are recruiting 50,000 people over 40 to join the 25-year study, which aims to understand how brain function, and our health and wellbeing, change as we age. This will provide valuable information about the brain and could inform future research to prevent conditions such as dementia. Once you’ve completed the first assessments, you can access brain-training games proven to help maintain brain function in a large clinical trial. Find out more (and sign up if you want) here.


How to boost your brain

Leave your phone in another room and go offline!

Stimulate your five senses by engaging as many of them together as possible. Go for a walk, enjoy the sights, smells and sounds of spring.

Learn a new skill, such as photography, painting or drawing, crochet or embroidery. Learn a new language. Learn how to turn off notifications on your phone (!). Teaching skills to others is also beneficial.

Listen to music, play an instrument, or sing; all shown to improve concentration.

Visit a gallery or museum. Research says that ‘cultural attendance’ has a protective effect against dementia. Here are some ideas for 2024 (UK exhibitions HERE,  European HERE, USA HERE and Australian exhibitions HERE)

Play cards or do a jigsaw. (Some libraries lend jigsaws).

And a quick memory test: what decade was mentioned in the first paragraph?



More research on digital dementia (sometimes know as digital amnesia) HERE.


Adrienne Wyper is a health and lifestyle writer and regular TNMA contributor. 

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