What's up? Elderly as addicted to social media as teens

Hooked to trouble

He was angry, abusive and addicted to WhatsApp. The behavioural disorders soon became a concern for the family, as he began spending five hours every day on the messaging platform.

This wasn’t a teen issue. The patient was, after all, a 70-year-old social media addict who turned up at Narayana Health.

Doctors warn that senior citizens are as vulnerable as today’s youth. What starts as a slow exploration of new technologies may graduate into addiction, they say.

In the above mentioned case, Ranganna (name changed) from Bengaluru spent so much time sending and receiving messages that his family tried to educate him about the ill-effects. But it got worse with every passing day. The 70-year-old diabetic was so engrossed with his phone that he even forgot his insulin shots, landing in hospital.

“His referral came from the endocrinologist. During his consultation, we found that he had behavioural issues, as complained by his wife. He was angry, aggressive and abusive at home,” said Dr Diwakar Goutham N, consultant, psychiatry and clinical psychology, Narayana Health.

“He was forgetting his insulin. There were no other cognitive problems for forgetfulness in him. When his wife went to help him, he also almost hit her once.”

Dr Goutham said it was more about how the usage of phone interferes with one’s life than the number of hours spent on it. “It was not a day’s phenomenon. This man also had a previous history of alcohol addiction. Those with previous addictions such as smoking, alcoholism and gambling are at a higher risk of this addiction.”

Doctors here have begun including digital addiction as part of comprehensive psychiatric assessment. In contrast to adolescents, it is mostly a need to explore that drives senior citizens.

“This is a grossly under-recognised issue. When we look at such addictions, we associate it with adolescents. Senior citizens are equally vulnerable. Most of them have other co-morbid physical health conditions unlike adolescents, where it is mostly behavioural issues. This can lead to depression,” Dr Goutham said.

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