Have you ever found yourself going in circles and unable to find your way in a familiar environment, such as driving through your own neighbourhood? A recently discovered disorder called Selective Developmental Topographical Disorientation explains this phenomenon. “It's like somebody picks up the whole world and sets it back down at a 90-degree angle,” says Sharon Roseman, who has a type of topographical disorder. "Finding our way" is a kind of task that requires the skills of memory, attention, perception, and decision-making. Specifically, the ability to complete such tasks involves two separate types of memory; procedural and spatial.
Procedural memory is implicit and long term. It consists of our "how to" knowledge; basically our knowledge of the task's procedure. In this particular case, procedural memory would consist of landmarks, distances, and specific movements required for completion of some procedure (i.e. finding our way home). Spatial memory, on the other hand, is a cognitive map or mental picture of your entire trek. This map is formed through sensory information gathered from one’s surroundings. One must be capable of creating and reading such mental layouts in order to navigate our way home.
“Researchers at the University of British Columbia and Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute recently documented the first case of a patient who, without apparent brain damage or cognitive impairment, is unable to orient within any environment.”
It is already known that damage to the brain can cause problems in terms of orientation and navigation, however in this study, no malformations or lesions were detected in the brains of the subjects. The researchers of this study, led by Giuseppe Laria of UBC Faculty of Medicine, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and behavioural tests to study the disorder among subjects who reportedly get lost in their own neighbourhoods. Findings concluded that the patients were unable to form cognitive maps.
Not only will these findings create awareness, the research and discovery of this first case of Selective Developmental Topographical Disorientation will lead to more research on treatment and help for many who may not even be aware of their own disorder. Also, newer techniques like virtual reality could prove to be very useful in terms of therapy for this new type of disorder.
For more information on this disorder visit: www.gettinglost.ca
Getting Lost: A Newly Discovered Developmental Brain Disorder
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