Smartphones are killing teenagers’ memories, study says

New research suggests that radiation from smartphones is negatively impacting teenagers’ memories, leaving them with short-term memory loss. The concern is that a year’s worth of radiation could be enough to damage the part of the brain that interprets images and shapes.

According to the study, which was published Monday, researchers found that there is a negative impact on memory performance after exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) radiation.

“This may suggest that indeed RF-EMF absorbed by the brain is responsible for the observed associations.” said Martin Röösli, Head of Environmental Exposures and Health at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) in a statement, announcing the findings.

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The research was conducted by scientists at the Swiss TPH and studied the habits of 700 adolescents in Switzerland between the ages of 12 and 17.

“The most relevant exposure source to the brain is the use of a mobile phone close to the head,” the statement added. “Several studies have been conducted to identify potential health effects related to RF-EMF, though results have remained inconclusive.”

Activities such as sending texts, playing games or browsing the internet are not associated with the memory loss, as they only give off “marginal RF-EMF exposure” and thus are not deemed to affect memory performance.

“A unique feature of this study is the use of objectively collected mobile phone user data from mobile phone operators.” Röösli added in the study.

While the study highlights a potential cause for memory loss in adolescents, Röösli was careful to add that more research is needed to see if other factors may have influenced the findings, such as puberty, “which affects both mobile phone use and the participant’s cognitive and behavioral state.”

Röösli said that any potential risks can be minimized by not having the phone up to someone’s head, either via the use of headphones or using the loudspeaker when calling, “in particular when network quality is low and the mobile phone is functioning at maximum power.”

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Smartphone risks?

The findings come just days after a similar study from The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), which highlighted the link between smart devices and attention spans, leading to a higher likelihood of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The JAMA study found that frequent checking of social media, web browsing and other online activities will increase the likelihood of “meeting ADHD criteria” two years later, according to Jenny Radesky, MD, an assistant professor in Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School.

More than 2,500 students aged between 15 and 16 from 10 Los Angeles-area high schools between 2014 and 2016 took part in the JAMA study.

Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia