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  (Source: media.mcclatchydc.com)
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 jmunjr on 11/17/2010 3:07:27 AM , Rating: 2
I postponed getting a cell phone until 2003 at age 34 because I knew if I did I would stop permanently memorizing phone numbers. Yes I really did know dozens or more of phone numbers by heart. Guess what? Got a cell phone and not long after I stopped memorizing #s. That pisses me off.

I also predicted GPS would do us no favors in remembering how to get from point A to point B, and indeed the problem is as bad or worse than I expected. Fortunately I don't need a GPS to live normally.

People laugh at me for having a Motorola V195 basic clamshell phone, well until I throw it 10 feet in the air and let it smack against the concrete without a scratch and then ask them if I can do the same with their smart phone from only 4 feet, and even less so when I am able to retrieve a business' phone # quicker then they can by texting Google via SMS while they try to do it using their browser...

Anyway, not having a cell phone is a difficult option to live with but any of us can choose to not use GPS and still function without ridicule. The problem though is few will be able to actually give directions in the future..




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