Digital Alzheimer’s: When Your Memory’s Shot at 30

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Kong has got into trouble several times at the construction company where he works for forgetting important issues. A few days ago, the 32-year old was in hot water with a superior again. When the superior asked him about a particular construction project, Kong said, “Was I engaged in that project?” It turned out he had been. After forgetting his mobile phone or wallet on a bus or in the office several times, Kong now carries a small bag to keep his wallet, mobile phone, key and diary safe.

Experts say more and more workers in their 20s and 30s suffer from forgetfulness due to the flood of information that assaults them in the office and their growing dependency on digital devices. Some seek treatment in hospitals when the symptoms get worse. Doctors even have a name for it: Digital Alzheimer’s Disease, a condition they say now afflict modern urbanites just like migraine or insomnia.

Too young to forget?

Lee, a 31-year-old lawyer, is liberally equipped with digital devices. He manages his schedule with a third-generation mobile phone with wireless Internet access and a PDA, since a lot of his work is complicated. Still, Lee says he is in fact more likely to forget things than in the days when he just jotted down appointments in a diary or notebook. “Recently I drove home feeling numb with stress from work and found myself in front of my old house,” he recalls. Lee went to hospital, but the doctor said there was nothing physically wrong with him and recommended a rest.

A doctor with a large university hospital said, “There are no statistics, but the number of young workers who visit hospitals for forgetfulness counseling is definitely on the rise.” Prof. Na Duk-lyul of the Samsung Medical Center’s Department of Neurology agrees. Symptoms, he says, stem from environmental factors like using digital devices, rather than any brain disorder.

Yoon Young-suk, the head of Choonwondang Oriental Medical Center has seen scores of people with forgetfulness, and the majority are young. In a recent survey by job search portal Incruit and research firm Embrain of 2,030 office workers, some 63 percent or 1,281 said they suffer from forgetfulness. More than 60 percent of workers between 20 and 30 said they are forgetful. Asked what causes forgetfulness, 20.4 percent or 261 respondents cited an environment filled with digital devices that mean people don’t need to remember.

Threat to memory

Many factors play a part in young people’s forgetfulness. Experts blame the stress from excessive information. When it is overloaded with information or people suffer from anxiety and mental pressure, the brain can stop functioning properly. Depression, a widespread mental illness in modern society, is another cause of forgetfulness. Prof. Yeon Byeong-kil, at Hallym Medical Center said, “People with depression tend to forget because they become indifferent to circumstances and their thinking slows down.”

Digital devices mean people do not make as much effort to memorize things as they did in the past because a myriad of gadgets store information for them. Ubiquitous access to Internet is another cause to weakened memory. High tech gadgets such as Navigator, which are designed to support for people’s memory, in fact hamper their ability to remember things.

“Patients who suffer from forgetfulness are diagnosed by normal because when they do the hospital test, they concentrate,” said Prof. Lee Dong-young at Seoul National University Hospital. “But in most cases, Digital Alzheimer’s stems from lack of attention due to dispersed information sources.” Prof. Yoon Se-chang of Samsung Medical Center said, “As people rely on search information more than memorizing, the brain function for searching develops but memory capacity is reduced. Heavy dependency on digital devices decreases the ability to remember.”



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