Africa: More Research Necessary to Disqualify the Role of Other Causes of Memory Loss, Scientists Say

12 August 2018

Mobile phone use may affect a teenager's ability to preserve memories, research has shown.

The study on a group of 700 teenagers in Switzerland showed that radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) or mobile signal waves have adverse effects on the development of memory performance.

The most common source of RF-EMF exposure to the brain is the mobile phone.


The popularity of the gadget has spurred the rapid evolution of information and communication technology.

Though several studies have been conducted to identify potential health effects related to RF-EMF, their results have not been convincing.

In the latest study by the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH), the waves were reported to have an effect on particular brain regions during mobile phone use.

The study was conducted by Swiss TPH in collaboration with the European Union project christened GERoNiMO, which aims to improve knowledge of how RF-EMF affects health.


The "Health Effects Related to Mobile phone use in adolescent" study investigated the relationship between exposure to RF-EMF and development of memory performance of the teens in the course of one year.

Participants, aged between 12 and 17, were recruited from seventh to ninth public school grades where Swiss-German is spoken.

Findings from the study were published on July 23, 2018 in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The research investigated the connection between exposure to RF-EMF from mobile devices and memory performance in the adolescents.

A report on a similar study involving 1,400 teens was published in the scientific journal Environment International in 2015.


In addition, more recent information on the absorption of RF-EMF in adolescent brains during different types of wireless communication device use has come to light.

The study found that the collective RF-EMF brain exposure from mobile phone use may have a negative effect on the development of symbolic or figural memory performance in young people, confirming the results of the 2015 study.

Figural memory, the association between images and literal words and names, is mainly located in the right hemisphere of the brain.

Association with RF-EMF was more pronounced in adolescents using mobile phones on the right side of the head.


"This may suggest that RF-EMF absorbed by the brain is responsible for the observed associations," Prof Martin Röösli, the head of Environmental Exposures and Health at Swiss TPH, said.

He added that other features of mobile phone use such as sending text messages, playing games or browsing the Internet result in insignificant RF-EMF exposure to the brain and are not associated with the development of memory performance.

"A unique feature of this study is the use of objectively collected mobile phone user data from phone operators," Prof Röösli said.

The academic added that more research is necessary to disqualify the role of other causes of memory failure in teenagers.


"The results could have been affected by puberty, which affects mobile phone use and a participant's perceptive and behavioural state," he said.

"It is not yet clear how RF-EMF could potentially affect the brain processes or how relevant our findings are in the long-term."

He advised mobile phone users to reduce the risk of RMF-EF by using headphones.

"Potential risks to the brain can be minimised by using headphones or the loud speaker while calling, in particular when network quality is low and the mobile phone is functioning at maximum power," the professor said.

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