"Doctor," appealed family members of a 69-year-old man, "Please talk to him. We have got to do something."
The man in question, described as having a "forthright and methodical" personality, had not even owned a mobile phone until he retired from his job. But now he's totally addicted by the device, constantly logging onto Facebook or responding to tweets on Twitter. Pleas by family members to limit his time online invariably garner a hostile response.
Smartphone addiction, it seems, is by no means a phenomenon confined to younger or middle-aged segments of the population. In a series of articles in Yukan Fuji beginning from May 8, psychiatrist Hiroyuki Yoshitake, director of a clinic in Yamato City, Kanagawa Prefecture, has observed that while youngsters' phone addiction tends to be mostly to games, elderly persons appear to be glued to their screens while perusing social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Line and others.
According to data compiled by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, more than 80% of individuals age 60 and over utilize a smartphone --- nearly as high as the 90% owned by those in their 20s and 30s. The percentage of smartphone users among the older segment, moreover, was higher than those who watch TV (67%) or those using a personal computer (60%).
The activity having greatest negative influence on the brain is decline in ability to process information and cognitive functions, and Dr Yoshitake is convinced that overuse of Twitter et al aggravates these.
It's apparent that more seniors are become addicted to smartphones out of their increasing sense of isolation as they grow older. Elderly persons are rapidly approaching 30% of Japan's total population, and of these, 17% of the males and 23% of females are living alone. In an ideal world, smartphones would serve as an ideal tool for them to engage with others and sublimate their loneliness and alienation. Unfortunately, however, excessive time spent logged onto an SNS have been found to exacerbate their isolation. When they log onto Facebook, for example, and constantly read about the successes and happiness that others appear to enjoy, their sense of envy may spur depression and possibly even an early death.
It is not widely known, but Yoshitake points out that not only does Japan boast the world's largest number of beds in dedicated mental hospitals, but the average hospitalization at such facilities --- around 400 days --- is considerably longer than in other major nations. And that figure does not include many others who are being treated on an outpatient basis.
Japan, Yoshitake writes, can be said to be a mental basket case. Smartphones, of course, can't be blamed entirely for this situation, but they may be making things worse.
"Rather than eke out a virtual existence on smartphones, I strongly urge seniors to involve themselves with society, with friends and with family members in the real world," he recommends.
One factor that may possibly relate to seniors' smartphone dependence may also tie in with a type of personality that American author Elaine N. Aron has termed HSP (Highly Sensitive Person).
One distinguishing HSP trait is the prioritizing of their lives so as to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations, such as by not watching violent movies or TV programs. Others might feel a need to withdraw during busy days, into bed or a darkened room to obtain privacy and relief.
Aron believes as high as one person in five might belong to this group --- far too many to be regarded as an abnormality. Yet information overload from constant use of SNSs may serve as another form of vulnerability to external stress.
How to treat such individuals? Clearly efforts at reducing log-on time -- by substituting other activities such as walking, etc. -- make sense. Another effective method is to set times for use of the smartphone in advance, and refraining from use apart from these times. A third method is simply to weed out which SNSs and apps can be deemed unnecessary and quit them cold turkey.
For efforts at so-called "digital detoxification" to succeed, Yoshitake encourages patients to wean themselves away from urbanized digital life and return to nature.© Japan Today