Researchers at McGill University are suggesting that relying on your GPS too much can damage your hippocampus.
The hippocampus is the region of the brain, largely responsible for long-term memory, and spatial navigation. It is usually one of the first parts of the brain damaged in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, which explains why symptoms of the disease include memory problems and disorientation.
Like most parts of the body, McGill researchers are suggesting that if you don’t use it, you lose it.
Functional MRI scans were performed on older adults, and results were divided between GPS and non-GPS users. The subjects accustomed to navigating by spatial means were found to have higher activity and a greater volume of gray matter in the hippocampus than those used to relying on GPS.
These non-GPS users also performed better on a standardized test used in the diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, which often precedes the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
University College London researchers performed similar tests a decade ago on taxi drivers, and determined that their hippocampus grew larger as the drivers spent more time in the job.
The McGill Neuroscientists believe that using spatial memory regularly may keep the hippocampus fit, and could help minimize risk of later impairment. They further hypothesize that future studies may show a link between reduced hippocampus activity and earlier onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Perhaps the next time you go someplace you have already been—you will rely a bit more on your memory, and only turn your GPS on if you feel you can’t get there from here.
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