Healthcare Technology Featured Article

September 22, 2017

Technology and Brain Health: What You Need to Know

The medical community is seeing more and more cases of dementia and Alzheimer’s – not to mention the thousands of brain-related issues that go undetected each year. It’s a major problem in American society and a hot button issue in the medical field. But, in order to have an educated discussion on the topic of brain health, you have to understand that brain functioning naturally slows over time. This happens for a couple of reasons.

“First off, there is a drop that occurs in the concentration of growth factors that repair spaces between nerves (known as the synaptic region),” Dr. Jerry Hickey explains. “This leads to a slower healing process of the synapse and a decrease in the efficiency of nerve transmission – therefore, cell-to-cell communication falters. Secondly, the numerous tiny power plants called mitochondria found in each nerve cell become old and wrinkled. Their efficiency decreases, therefore decreasing the creation of energy in the brain.”

Could it be possible that technology is both a culprit of brain decay, as well as the answer to premature aging? Let’s start with the good, then we’ll touch on the bad.

Tech and Brain Health: The Good

There are hundreds of different ways in which technology positively impacts brain health, but we’ll take a look at a couple of specific ones.

The first interesting development has been the growth of virtual reality (VR) and how it’s being used to help patients with mental health issues like PTSD, social anxiety, or claustrophobia. Doctors use it to simulate a virtual state of being and slowly introduce people into situations that trigger them. By doing this in a totally safe, yet realistic environment, fears can be overcome.

Technology can also be used to improve memory, particularly in people with traumatic brain injuries or head trauma. One particular development being worked on is the process of implanting electrodes in the brain as a form of “neuroprosthetic.” Once in the brain, these electrodes parrot the complex electric patterns of the brain and help bridge the gaps that exist in the patient’s memory. This technology is obviously in the early stages, but it is promising.

Progress is definitely being made in this area and it’ll be exciting to see how technology continues to positively impact brain health in the coming months and years.

Tech and Brain Health: The Bad

For all of the productive ways technology can be leveraged to positively impact the brain, there are also plenty of negative effects of tech addiction – particularly in children who are growing up in a hyper-connected world where they spend hours tethered to devices each day. It’s actually possible for a child’s brain (or an adult’s brain, for that matter) to be rewired, so to speak – and the effects aren’t always positive.

“Shorter attention spans and a need for instant gratification can make it harder to concentrate on and solve complex problems, particularly if there are few social incentives for deeper engagement,” Christie Barakat writes for AdWeek. “An ‘always-on’ environment can harm genuine human interaction among friends and family.”

Then there are the insecurities that often arise from constantly being connected to social media and other online platforms. The more you’re exposed to the “highlights” of other people’s lives, the more you begin to feel like your life isn’t that great. Over time, this creates a sense of discontentment and inadequacy – neither of which are healthy for an individual’s mental health.

Putting it All Together

Clearly, technology is impacting brain health in this country and around the world. The question is, will we let it be a hindrance or an aid? More than likely, it’ll continue to do both, but it’s up to each individual to make their own personal choices. 

Edited by Mandi Nowitz

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