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What is Digital Amnesia and how does it affect our memory?

Mobile technologies have made startling progress in recent times in the field of healthcare, especially during the pandemic. Mobile technologies in healthcare have been useful in multiple areas like education and promotion of health awareness, remote diagnosis of patients, real-time clinical decision making, treatment, and patient monitoring from remote locations, etc.

Advantages of Mobile-based Intervention Technologies

  • Improved accessibility to better patient care

    1. Overcoming limited clinical resources
    2. Overcoming limited staff trained to deliver evidence-based treatment across the many therapeutic orientations
  • Location-free, portable, available at any time, and can be used across a broad range of settings and during patient transitions
    1. Overcoming logistical difficulties associated with scheduling and travel to receive services
  • Potential cost savings

    1. Overcoming the high cost of training busy staff to deliver evidence-based treatment across many therapeutic orientations.
  • Versatility in the clinical usefulness of computerized and mobile-based technologies to free up clinician time. Some examples include the use of technology:
    1. during intake to prepare and engage patient for treatment
    2. to extend the reach of the therapist between sessions
    3. as a ‘treatment extended’ for additional treatment components/modules
    4. to access and practice skills learned in treatment (independent of clinician)
    5. to offer booster sessions to maintain gain
  • during ‘at risk’ times to aid relapse prevention

On average, a user checks his/her phones as often as 150 times a day, which reflects how smartphone apps can generate, reward, and maintain strong habits involving their use. A recent public survey found that 76% of 525 respondents would be interested in using their mobile phones for self-management and self-monitoring of mental health if the service were free. This shows that the demand for apps around mental health services is strong.

Mental health mobile apps provide psychoeducation, enhance provider/patient communication, enable self-monitoring, reduce stigma, supplement and support therapy and empowers patients.

Although mental health apps have several advantages, there are multiple scopes of improvement. Some of the primary concerns include privacy issues, regulations, overselling, lack of industry-wide standards. The bigger question is- Will these apps work for all the people and for all mental health conditions?

Some of the available mental health apps in the market are- What’s my M3, MoodKit, T2 Mood Tracker, and What’s up?

We lack apps to assess therapeutic outcomes with pharmacological agents which are actually the mainstay therapy in the management of anxiety and depression. Apps to assess therapeutic adherence are the need of the hour.

Digital Amnesia

We exist in a world of ‘Digital Symbiotic living’. The majority of things that we do are digital or online. Nearly, 80% of us rely on our digital devices more than we did 5 years ago. Digital devices have become a convenient and reliable way of holding information to remember. The over-reliance on connected devices and the internet has led us to a situation where we forget vital information and trust digital devices for that. This phenomenon is termed ‘Digital Amnesia’. 

How does it affect memory?

The dependency on connected devices to store memory depletes neuronal activity as there is no information to rehearse. This ceases the formation of long-term memory and the memory remains weak due to the low recall factor.

 

According to a survey, nearly 79% of respondents said they are more reliant on digital devices now for accessing information than 5 years ago. Only, 21% of people said they rely on their memories alone to remember information.

Technology has undoubtedly been an enabler by improving accessibility and helping overcome resource limitations but its overuse has given birth to several issues like digital amnesia. It has become important that the usage is regulated so that the ‘Google effect’ does not lead us to a place from where it is extremely difficult to bounce back.

 

Note: The article is based on inputs from Dr. Avinash Desousa, Consultant Psychiatrist, Founder Trustee, Desousa Foundation, Hon. Secretary-General Indian Association of Private Psychiatry and Dr. Anu Kant Mital – President, Indian Association of Private Psychiatry.

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