Lewis Diuguid

Baby boomers, seniors cautioned on smartphones’ negative health-related drawbacks

Smartphone users are advised in the latest issue of AARP magazine of the health-related perils to texting.
Smartphone users are advised in the latest issue of AARP magazine of the health-related perils to texting. skeyser@kcstar.com

When lamenting the drawbacks of cellphones, people generally shake their heads and wag their finger over the problems the gadgets create for teens and young adults.

But the August/September issue of AARP magazine points out in “The Perils of Smartphones” article that the technology clearly creates serious problems for baby boomers and seniors, too. The subhead on the piece says: “We spend five hours a day on our mobile phones. Here are four ways they could be harming your health — and what to do about it.”

Cellphones cause that the AARP piece calls “text neck.”

“A whopping 90 percent of us text with our necks bent, which strains muscles, tendons and ligaments,” AARP notes. “Flexing the neck forward at a 60-degree angle also puts 60 pounds of weight on the spine, leading to degeneration and arthritis.”

Who knew? But that slippery slope of texting won’t likely cause people to stop the practice. The magazine says the fix requires people to stand upright and keep their cellphones 12 to 14 inches from their face.

And wouldn’t you also know there’s an app to help. “Apps such as HeadUp and Text Neck Indicator alert you when you’re doing this wrong,” the magazine notes.

Texting also causes what AARP calls “bum thumb.” “All the digit bending can cause inflammation in your fingers, leading to tendinitis or arthritis,” the magazine says. “And watch out for ‘trigger finger,’ a condition that causes fingers to get stuck in a bent position. (You may need surgery to fix it.)

Ouch! The fix suggests that people use voice-to-text, and take breaks when punching the smartphone keypad. The article also advises people to send most of their emails from computers, using bigger more accommodating keyboards. “If you feel discomfort, stop and rest your hands, then gently stretch your thumbs and other fingers,” AARP advises.

Eyestrain is an added problem with smartphones.

“Some 65 percent of Americans suffer from digital eyestrain, a condition characterized by dry itchy eyes and blurred vision,” the article says. The blue cellphone light also may damage users’ retinas, leading to macular degeneration.

That’s serious stuff. The fix requires that people ask their doctors about anti-reflective lenses or try blue-light-blocking glasses, costing $69 to $299. AARP also advises people to blink a lot, like 18 times a minute.

Of course no cellphone-woes article would be complete without warning people about the distractions the high-tech devices create.

“It’s tough enough to focus these days, but a smartphone can make this worse,” the article notes (Big Du’h!). “It can take up to 27 seconds after disconnecting from a hands-free device to regain attention.”

If a person is driving, that could result in a traffic crash with injuries or worse. The AARP’s fix is that people turn off notifications and check texts and emails only at times when the distraction won’t put people in danger.

“iPhone users can put their phones on ‘do not disturb,’ yet allow family or work calls to get through,” AARP says.