Google Maps increases risk of developing Alzheimer's, expert warns

Google Maps increases risk of developing Alzheimer's, expert warns  

·        29 May 2019 • 3:48pm

Satellite navigation aids like Google Maps could be damaging people’s brains and may even contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, a navigation expert has warned.


David Barrie, CBE, a former British diplomat, who has written extensively on natural navigation, said that humans had developed an acute sense of their surroundings and place in the world over hundreds of thousands of years which was now being lost as technology takes over.
And he said he was concerned that GPS was preventing people building up the resilience that their brains needed in later life.
In Alzheimer’s the hippocampus is one of the first areas to deteriorate, taking away a person’s ability to remember directions, and navigate.
Speaking at The Hay Festival, Mr Barrie said it was ‘very sad’ to see people with their heads down following smartphone maps.
“Crucially as we become more and more dependent on these electronic gadgets to find out way around we are becoming more and more cut off from the natural world,” he said. 
“This sense of emersion in nature, and losing yourself in the natural world and the extraordinary rewards that come from that, well you lose that.
“There may be deeper problems too. The parts of your brain that may be responsible for your ability to navigate need exercise and if they are not exercised they literally shrink. 
“It’s quite possible that people who fall victim to Alzheimer’s disease, which first typically manifests itself in the shape of disorientation, their hippocampus has already shrunk from lack of use or has considerably less resilience for coping with the onslaught of disease. So that’s actually quite a good reason to want to maintain those parts of the brain by exercising them.”
Mr Barrie, whose new book ‘Incredible Journeys’ deals with the extraordinary navigational abilities of animals, said the human brain may still be capable of similar feats including detecting the Earth’s magnetic field.
Many animals navigate using the magnetic field - through a technique known as magnetoreception - but until recently it was thought humans did not have the ability. 
However a study published in March suggests found humans brainwaves change significantly as a magnetic field moves, suggesting the brain is picking up directions subconsciously.
Recent studies have also found that animals use sight, smell, sound and even the orientation of the Milky Way to navigate. 
Mr Barrie added: “Our species, homo sapiens, has been around for 300,000 years and almost all that time we have been navigating without technology. The magnetic compass only came into to use in the 12th century and maps are very modern indeed.
“Our hunter gather ancestors relied exclusively on their senses and their wits to find their way around.”
But he warned that satellite navigation systems could be dangerous as people increasingly rely on them in inappropriate situations. 
“It’s dangerous, because first of all it doesn’t always work, especially in cities where you get reflections off buildings, and it’s also a problem with people using it in places it was not designed to be used such as up a mountain or on the sea, and they get into trouble. It happens all the time,” he added.

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