Psychiatrist Kim Dae-jin at Seoul St. Mary's Hospital recently diagnosed a 15-year-old boy with symptoms of early onset dementia due to intense exposure to digital technology -- television, computer, smartphone and video games -- since age 5. He could not remember the six-digit keypad code to get into his own home and his memory problems were hurting his grades in school.
"His brain's ability to transfer information to long-term memory has been impaired because of his heavy exposure to digital gadgets," the psychiatrist told the Korea JoongAngDaily.com.
South Korea is highly wired -- 65 percent of teens have smartphones -- and doctors said they were finding a growing number of cases of memory problems, attention disorders and emotional flattening among children and teens who spent a lot of time Web searching, texting and using multimedia.
"Overuse of smartphones and game devices hampers the balanced development of the brain," said Byun Gi-won, who runs the Balance Brain Center in Seoul, which helps those with cognitive problems related to computers and smartphones.
Youth might be at more risk than adults because up to age 25, their brains are still developing.
"From the early 2000s, I've seen a drastic increase in patients with reduced memory spans, especially young people. When I looked at it, most of them were exposed to the heavy consumption of digital gadgets," Dr. Kim Young-bo at Gachon University Gil Medical Center's brain research institute in Incheon told the newspaper.
"The gadgets ease the burden of memorizing tedious information but if we don't use our brain functions, the overall cognitive skills of being aware and perception will ultimately decrease."
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