One of the skills that seems to have deteriorated with age, for me at least, is wayfinding. I used to have a quite good internal compass and could wander through strange cities without getting lost. These days, however, I get turned around pretty easily, and it takes real effort to remember my route so I can backtrack, whether in the woods or in cities. Very annoying.

A report from Dartmouth Now talks about a couple of Dartmouth researchers who are trying to find out more about mammals’ “internal GPS.” The report talks about the hope of using it to treat wandering, a syndrome exhibited by people with Alzheimer’s, but maybe they can help me if my wayfinding continues to deteriorate.

( Jeffrey Taube and Shawn Winter ) are studying the activity of specialized brain cells—place cells and grid cells—that may form the foundation of the cerebral map. …

Our results suggest grid cells may be more involved in tracking the distance traveled by the rat rather than its precise location within the environment,” says Taube. “It is common knowledge that people with Alzheimer’s often have spatial disorientation. They don’t know where they are.” He says. “These individuals typically have abnormality in the brain areas where these cells are found, probably accounting for their problems with way finding.”

Read the report here.

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