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Excessive use of GPS units could lead to Alzheimer's disease

McGill University researchers conducted a series of three studies which magnify the effects GPS systems have on the human brain, and found that avid GPS users have a higher risk of suffering from problems with memory and spatial orientation. 

Veronique Bohbot, associate professor of psychiatry at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute and McGill University, along with a team of McGill researchers, found that those who use a GPS system to navigate often have a higher chance of damaging a region of the brain that controls memory. 

Humans generally navigate using one of two methods. The first is a spatial navigation strategy where landmarks are used to build cognitive maps that help us figure out where we are without the use of a GPS. The second is a stimulus-response strategy where we drive in auto-pilot mode, making turns in certain places because repetition tells us that this is the best way to reach a specific destination. This second strategy is more closely related to the way GPS users navigate.

"When it comes to finding my way, I've become a GPS zombie," said Jean Snyder, a 47-year-old office manager in Highland Heights, Ohio. "I'm sure I'm not doing my brain any favors."

When functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or fMRI, was performed on those who navigate both spatially and through stimulus-response strategies, people who used a spacial navigation strategy had increased activity in an area of the brain involved with memory and navigation known as the hippocampus. 

McGill researchers found that excessive use of a GPS unit may lead to atrophy of the hippocampus as we age, which puts the person at risk for cognitive problems such as Alzheimer's disease later in life. Alzheimer's disease affects the hippocampus first before any other part of the brain, which leads to problems with spatial orientation and memory. 

In addition, researchers found a "greater volume of grey matter" within the hippocampus of spatial strategy-using adults. On a standardized cognition test, which helps diagnose cognitive impairment, these adults scored higher than those who don't use spatial strategies. According to the study, these results suggest that spatial memory increases hippocampus activity, which then results in an increased quality of life. 

While researchers have found evidence relating hippocampus activity to memory, there are still questions surrounding this research. For instance, researchers are unsure as to whether using spacial strategies causes the hippocampus to grow, or if having a "robust" hippocampus causes an individual to use spacial strategies. 

Either way, using spatial strategies instead of the GPS would be helpful in lessening the deterioration of memory. The study isn't encouraging everyone to throw their GPS units away, but to take a break now and then. 

"We live in a society that's so fast paced that it encourages us to feel bad if we get lost," said Bohbot. "What I say to people is that we can use GPS to explore the environment, but don't become dependent on it. Developing a cognitive map may take longer, but it's worth the investment." 

These studies were presented at the Society for Neuroscience's annual meeting on November 14. 

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By danobrega on 11/16/2010 12:21:35 PM , Rating: -1
Another study concluded that stupid studies almost always lead to stupid conclusions.

Who funds these studies? :|

RE: duh
By KC7SWH on 11/16/10, Rating: -1
RE: duh
By teldar on 11/16/2010 4:07:49 PM , Rating: 2
Are you Canadian? Do you know where the study was performed?

RE: duh
By Nightbird321 on 11/16/2010 4:48:51 PM , Rating: 5
Another study by sociologists and not statisticians. Correlation does not prove causation.

This is as if they did a study showing wearing glasses being correlated with poor eyesight and claiming glasses caused poor eyesight.

RE: duh
By Believer on 11/16/10, Rating: 0
RE: duh
By Iaiken on 11/16/2010 12:48:54 PM , Rating: 5
I think it's a valid study.

There was another supporting study done where people who used GPS's excessively were unable to give directions to other people on how to follow the same route they just took. Nor were they able to repeat the trip themselves without a GPS or a map. Meanwhile, the people who navigated on their own by following a map, were then able to give accurate directions to others, sometimes they could even draw a map from memory and almost all of them could repeat the route flawlessly without the map.

Besides the Alzheimer, I think this study demonstrates just how little we still know about how we function and just how much more there is to find out.

RE: duh
By nafhan on 11/16/2010 1:06:44 PM , Rating: 5
It would be much mroe reasonable to say that not using a GPS exercises your brain rather.
Really, it seems like the conclusion could also be drawn that driving the same route every day also causes alzheimers. However, that's not quite as sensational, so we'll just leave it alone.

RE: duh
By nafhan on 11/16/2010 1:09:03 PM , Rating: 2
I guess I need to stop using my GPS...
First sentence should have been:
It would be much more reasonable to say that not using a GPS exercises your brain.

RE: duh
By The Raven on 11/16/2010 1:57:04 PM , Rating: 3
I guess I need to stop using my GPS...

Or spellcheck for that matter. And spreadsheets. Bring back long division!!! Let's just get rid of PCs and calculators altogether?

Personally I'd prefer a higher quality of life than qty.

I think that the study doesn't factor in that your would-be copilot can now do sudoku which is better (I have read stuff from the same type of scientists that says as much anyway) at reducing the risk of alzheimer's for them than finding directions on a map while they sing along to Lady GagMe.

RE: duh
By kerpwnt on 11/16/2010 2:05:34 PM , Rating: 2
To be safe, I think we should do it all at once! Something like this guy:

I'm kidding btw...

RE: duh
By Spivonious on 11/16/2010 2:38:30 PM , Rating: 1
I would love to remove calculators and computers from schools. There is no reason to have them. The math teachers just have to make the problems a little easier for mental arithmetic. How do you think they did things before the 80s when calculators became affordable? It pains me when I encounter a cashier that can't recalculate the change in his/her head if I give him/her some extra change after he/she has entered it into the register. I even had one tell me "it's too late".

Spreadsheets are a nice tool. Computerized spreadsheets are even better.

Spellcheckers on their own can be a good thing (but definitely not a replacement for proof-reading). Auto-replace spellcheckers are the reason that no one can spell.

While at times it would be nice to have a GPS, if only for the detailed local maps, I tend to look over a map before leaving on long trips and mentally note landmarks I'll pass.

RE: duh
By The Raven on 11/18/2010 11:21:23 AM , Rating: 2
I would love to remove calculators and computers from schools. There is no reason to have them. The math teachers just have to make the problems a little easier for mental arithmetic. How do you think they did things before the 80s when calculators became affordable? It pains me when I encounter a cashier that can't recalculate the change in his/her head if I give him/her some extra change after he/she has entered it into the register. I even had one tell me "it's too late".

Ok, you done gone too far. I hear this stuff from my mom, and I swear she flaunts her mental math skill about me all the time. It is really irritating. Well one mistake and it is worth crap. I mean let me tell my boss that I am using mental math instead of a calculator and I'll get fired. About six month ago we were doing price negotiations with a customer and while most of my coworkers were going through basic calculations in their heads and with calcs, I was able to discover and focus on the fact that we had a flaw in our formula. What do you think is more important? To know how to create a accurate formula or memorizing your times tables? I am horrible at mental math (IMO) but was always at the top of my class throughout college. Yes I can calculate things in my head, but it is not my strong point and I consider that almost useless in this day and age. Yes it is at times nice to have around, but so is knowing the State Capitals.

And as far as the registers go... just know that your prices are lower because of it. That's what gets me through it. (Same goes for the ones who don't "speak English" or "know anything about what they are selling".)
I mean as long as they understand that 4*George Washingtons=George Washington, you should be ok.

And I worked register a lot in various jobs. And I would say that it is not because their schooling is lacking. I think it is sufficient for those jobs. But it is because they come across that situation rarely in this day and age and it get them flustered and affects their ability to do what normally would be child's play. I mean I would get flustered too, but could handle those kind of things though it may have taken me some time. Then if you get some guy complaining that you aren't lightining fast at what isn't a typical function of your job makes it even worse.

And spellcheck is a great thing only if, as you said, it is not used as a replacement for proofreading.
And there are some places where people just don't/practically can't take the tiem to proofread...
I'm glad I don't text or IM lol!

RE: duh
By kerpwnt on 11/16/2010 1:53:45 PM , Rating: 2
that's not quite as sensational


This article sites links to an msnbc article as a source(which wasn't nearly as bad)... so it's at least twice removed from the actual scientific work? I really feel like I'm only dogging the writers here anymore, but it really disheartens me to see scientific research sensationalized to to irrelevance. News articles should be no more accusatory than the scientific papers they're supposed to be based on. For example, the title of this article should say "Study: GPS Units may increase risk of Memory and Spatial Problems." Perhaps, to keep some level of sensationalism, It could even use the words "linked to." Maybe then, the comments section wouldn't be full of statements like "who funds these retards" or "dumb 'scientists' don't understand the difference between correlation and causation."

RE: duh
By Drag0nFire on 11/16/2010 2:16:17 PM , Rating: 4
Correlation does not imply causation. There could in fact be many other reasons why frequent users of GPS tend to have different brain characteristics that have nothing to do with the GPS...

But I suppose that's more related to the way it has been reported than it is to the study itself (see title).

RE: duh
By 91TTZ on 11/16/2010 2:21:53 PM , Rating: 2
I Was thinking the same thing. It could be that people who are already bad with direction are more likely to use a GPS than people who are good with directions.

RE: duh
By Drag0nFire on 11/17/2010 1:37:25 PM , Rating: 2
Really, title should be "GPS use correlated with spatial memory problems". But it doesn't get as many page views that way...

RE: duh
By JKflipflop98 on 11/16/2010 4:13:41 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, and another independent study found that people who are eating ice cream have far fewer skiing accidents than those that don't.

You think maybe people that buy GPS units have a smaller active hippocampus section of the brain to start with? I.E., they bought the GPS because they get lost easily anyways?

Nahhh. . . looking at the GPS has to be causing some sort of brain dysfunction.

RE: duh
By inperfectdarkness on 11/16/2010 5:18:10 PM , Rating: 2
i'd like to see a tie-in about FPS games. i consider myself to have excellent spatial memory, due to the large amount of FPS's i play.

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