A brain disorder that causes people to get lost
Published Monday, November 3, 2008 4:13PM PST
It's something many of us take for granted.
Being able to find our way around our own home, or to and from work. But for some people, not getting lost, even in the most familiar environments, is next to impossible.
Imagine getting lost in even the most familiar environments.
You can't remember where to turn on streets you have walked down for years.
Finding your workplace is a major task.
"There are people who are unable to orient, and they easily get lost, and they [have been getting] lost since they were children," said Dr. Giuseppe Iaria, UBC Faculty of Medicine
This condition now has a name. It's called developmental topographical disorientation'.
"They get lost in their own house. These are people who get lost in their neighborhoods, where they [have] live for 25 years," said Iaria, who discovered the brain disorder.
Dr. Iaria says people suffering from the disorder can lose their bearings with every turn. East literally becomes north. They are unable to process geographical information like others.
"When you move in a new environment, you start building in your mind knowledge about places and landmarks, and you create a special relationship in your mind between these places so that with time you can move from any place to anywhere without getting lost," he said.
Orientation is complex. It uses many parts of the brain. We don't fully develop all of the cognitive skills until we are about nine or ten.
But for some reason, people suffering from developmental topographical disorientation never fully develop that ability.
"Developmental topographical disorientation can occur for so may different reasons. So, there are, for example, people who have a problem in forming a mental representation of the environment--a cognitive map--or there are people who are simply unable to remember left or right turns according to specific landmarks,'' said Dr. Iaria.
Dr Iaria has been contacted by about sixty people who have the condition. But he believes there are many more who are suffering in silence.
"I have been told from so many people that they actually tried to explain their problems to friends and relatives but actually it's impossible for them to understand, so they gave up," he said.
He hopes bringing them together will help them cope with their difficulties. The key is to start working with patients while they are still young.
"I'm assuming that they had this problem since they were children. So, if were able to identify children with this specific issue then it would be easier, because of neuroplasticity, to intervene and to act,'' said Dr. Iaria.
For more information on how we orient ourselves in the environment , or to contact the researchers, if you believe you easily get lost and have had this serious issue since you were a child: see the UBC neuroscience research website at www.gettinglost.ca.
With a report by CTV British Columbia's Dr. Rhonda Low