Could smartphones be giving teens dementia?

South Korean doctors warn that smartphones and other digital devices may cause development on one side of a child's brain to stall, a so-called 'digital dementia.'

Dementia, the often slow and excruciating loss of cognitive abilities, typically occurs in those over 65.

South Korean doctors, however, have discovered a worrisome pattern they're calling "digital dementia" — an early onset version of the syndrome which they believe is caused by a reliance on digital devices and smartphones.

Byun Gi-won, a doctor at the Balance Brain Centre in Seoul, said repeated use of smartphones threatens to create a neurological imbalance, with the left side of the brain — which controls tasks like reasoning, logic and language — developing at a normal pace, while the right side — which deals with creativity, emotions, concentration and recognition — stalls, The Telegraph reported.

"Heavy users are likely to develop the left side of their brains, leaving the right side untapped or underdeveloped," he told the JoongAng Daily newspaper.

Related: Are smartphones ruining our ability to make eye contact?

Won warned that if the right side of the brain is allowed to stagnate, attention span and memory would languish and emotional faculties would become underdeveloped. He said younger people were most at risk because their brains are still growing.

Smartphone usage statistics vary. While the Telegraph reports that 18.4 percent of people between the ages of 10 and 19 use their smartphones for more than seven hours per day, a 2013 study by Experian Marketing Services found that Americans spent only an hour a day on their devices, nearly one-quarter of that time talking and one-fifth texting.

In South Korea, doctors may have special cause for concern because the nation of almost 50 million people has the highest smartphone ownership rate per capita (67 percent) in the world, the Telegraph reported.

Related: 12 things you didn't know your smartphone could do

South Korea doctors aren't the only ones to raise a cry about digital dementia, however. German neuropsychiatrist Manfred Spitzer has called for an outright ban on digital media in the classroom, arguing that digital technologies are replacing and jeopardizing the brain's ability to perform basic learning functions like reading and writing, World Crunch reported. Younger students, he warned, may have difficulty learning non-digital lessons in the future.

"Using digital media in kindergarten or primary school is actually a way of getting children addicted," he wrote in a study written in German.

What's the best way to teach children numbers? Using fingers, not computers, Spitzer said.

 

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