Three studies by McGill University researchers presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience on Sunday show that the way we navigate the world today may indeed affect just how well our brains function as we age — particularly the hippocampus, which is linked to memory.
According to the McGill researchers, their findings suggest that the aging process involves a shift in navigational strategies. Healthy young adults tend to spontaneously use a spatial approach when navigating a virtual maze, the McGill researchers found in their studies. But most older adults used a response strategy.
That shift may lead to atrophy of the hippocampus, a risk factor for cognitive problems in normal aging and in Alzheimer's disease, explains neuroscientist Veronique Bohbot, associate professor of psychiatry at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute and McGill University. The hippocampus is one of the first brain areas to be affected by Alzheimer's disease, causing problems with memory and spatial orientation.