‘Real Maps’ Could Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease, New Study Says

Using old-school maps, instead of a GPS app, could be of great help in fighting Alzheimer’s disease. This is increasingly taking a heavy toll on American families, according to the findings of a new study on how to prevent dementia.

Orienteering Gives Clues on How to Fight Dementia Onset

Researchers from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada have discovered that cognitive decline could be staved off through orienteering, the outdoor activity involving navigation puzzles, Study Finds reported.

Orienteering involves navigating control points marked on a specially designed map, including the challenge of going through the course as fast as possible.

Scientists say practicing the outdoor sport could be a valuable tool to combat the onset of dementia, as it boosts memory and navigational skills.

According to their findings, because of its “physical and cognitive demands,” orienteering improves those parts of the brains that the ancestors of modern-day humans used in their hunting and gathering lifestyle.

The McMaster University researchers note the human brain evolved to create new neural pathways as a way of adapting to the challenges of rough environments. 

Yet, as food is readily available today and people are increasingly using GPS maps, the brain functions in question aren’t always utilized today. They, however, are in the “use it or lose it” category, meaning that ignoring them could worsen cognitive loss. 

Jennifer Heisz, who chairs brain health and aging research at McMaster University, warns certain “cognitive and physical challenges” needed for the human brain’s thriving are missing in modern life. 

Thus, humans risk losing the neural architecture responsible for active navigation. Prof. Heisz emphasizes losing the ability to find your way is one of the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, even in its mildest stage. 

GPS Robs You of Valuable Brain Activity 

In their study, the Canadian scholars looked into the condition of healthy adults aged between 18 and 87 who had varying experience with orienteering.  The research team discovered people who practiced orienteering showed better memory and spatial navigation skills. 

This led to the conclusion that including “wayfinding” elements in the daily routine could benefit people by reducing their risk of dementia. 

Lead author Emma Waddington stresses that orienteering has more significant benefits to brain training, compared with “exercising only” because of its cognitive and physical demands. 

She explains that orienteering requires people to make quick transitions between different brain parts, which operate with spatial information in different ways. 

In a modern-day environment, however, the need to practice and utilize such skills oftentimes gets removed by the availability of GPS systems. 

GPS apps change the way the human brain uses its memory and spatial information, while reducing the ability to navigate. 

That is why the research team at McMaster University concluded that people seeking to stave off the onset of dementia should use old-school maps when traveling and turn off their GPS. 

They should also create new spatial challenges for themselves by changing their jogging, walking, or bike-riding routes. 

Waddington notes that orienteering is a “sport for life,” including participants between six and 86 years old, but the outdoor activity clearly harbors benefits for an aging population. 

This article appeared in The State Today and has been published here with permission.