Waze leads to brain haze? This is why using real maps instead of GPS can prevent dementia

HAMILTON, Ontario — Turning off Waze or your favorite GPS app and using an old-fashioned map may be the best way to fight Alzheimer’s disease, a new study reveals. Researchers at McMaster University say orienteering, an outdoor sport that trains the mind and body through navigation puzzles, can train the brain and prevent cognitive decline. The aim of orienteering is to navigate between checkpoints or controls marked on a special map. In competitive orienteering, the challenge is to complete the course in the fastest time.

For older adults, scientists say the sport – which hones navigational skills and memory – could become a useful intervention measure to counteract the slow decline associated with the onset of dementia. They believe the physical and cognitive demands of orienteering may stimulate parts of the brain that our ancient ancestors used for hunting and gathering.

The human brain evolved thousands of years ago to adapt to harsh environments by creating new neural pathways, the McMaster team explains. Those same brain functions aren’t always needed these days, though, thanks to GPS apps and food readily available.

Unfortunately, the team says these skills fall into a “use it or lose it” situation.

“Modern life may lack the specific cognitive and physical challenges that the brain needs to thrive,” said Jennifer Heisz, Canada Research Chair in Brain Health and Aging at McMaster University, in a press release. “In the absence of active navigation, we risk losing that neural architecture.”

Losing your sense of direction is a sign of Alzheimer’s disease

prof. Heisz points to Alzheimer’s disease, where the loss of the ability to navigate is one of the earliest symptoms, even in the mildest stage of the disease. In the new study, published in the journal PLOS ONEthe research team surveyed healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 87 with varying levels of orienteering experience.

People who participated in orienteering showed better spatial navigation and memory skills, suggesting that adding elements of wayfinding to their daily routines benefited them throughout their lives.

“When it comes to brain training, the physical and cognitive demands of orienteering have the potential to give you more bang for your buck compared to training alone,” said lead author Emma Waddington, a graduate student in the Department of Kinesiology who designed the study. and is a coach and member of the National Orientation Team.

Waddington says orienteering is a unique activity because people must actively navigate as they make rapid transitions between parts of the brain that handle spatial information in different ways. For example, reading a map relies on the reader creating a third-person perspective of their surroundings. Orienteers must quickly translate that information and apply it to their actual position within that environment, in real time and often while on the move.

Turn off the GPS

However, in the digital world, GPS systems take these skills away from many people. They affect not only our ability to navigate, but also how the brain processes spatial information and memory in general. For people who want to avoid dementia by getting their bearings, researchers recommend turning off the GPS and using a map to find their way when traveling. You can also challenge yourself spatially by using a new route for your daily run, walk, or bike ride.

“Orienteering is really a sport for life. You often see participants between the ages of 6 and 86 doing orienteering,” says Waddington.

“My long-term involvement in this sport has enabled me to understand the process behind learning navigational skills and I have been inspired to explore the uniqueness of orienteering and the scientific significance this sport can have for the aging population.”

South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.

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