Scientists figure out why grandpa gets lost all the time
Research shows that elderly people get lost because their internal GPS goes haywire with age
The reason why elderly people sometimes get lost may have been solved by scientists.
Researchers have found that “GPS cells” in the brain, which keep track of direction of travel, deteriorate with age and start acting more erratically.Everyone has a group of special cells in the brain that acts like a grid on a map, firing to the left or right, front or back, depending on a person’s movement, and creating an internal map.Scientists at the German Centre for Neurodegenerative Disease (DZNE)believe that map essentially fades with age, but think it may be possible to find drugs to boost the activity of these grid cells.
“When you move around an unfamiliar environment, it is perfectly normal to get lost, yet this tends to happen more often to older people,” said Matthias Stangl, a researcher at the DZNE.
“We had the hypothesis that so-called grid cells might be implicated. A major part of the navigational processing is done by these cells. They are specialised neurons located in the brain’s entorhinal cortex. Therefore, we guessed that deficits in grid cell function might be a cause for problems in navigation.”The scientists asked 41 healthy young and older adults to perform navigation tasks while scanning their brains. They found older people did less well, and the scans showed their grid cells were less active than younger people.“We found an association between decreased navigational performance and deficits in grid cell activity”, said Professor Thomas Wolbers, a DZNE senior scientist and study supervisor.
“Grid cells fired differently when comparing young and old adults. Specifically, firing patterns were less stable over time in older individuals, which indicates that these brain circuits are compromised in old age. This might be a cause of why many senior people tend to have troubles with spatial navigation.”
The researchers also believe the findings may open up new ways to detect Alzheimer’s disease. The cells are near to the hippocampus, which is one of the first areas to be damaged by the sticky plaques which cause Alzheimer’s.“Grid cells play a central role not just in navigation but also in other cognitive functions,” added Prof Wolbers,
“Therefore, our findings might indicate a key mechanism underlying cognitive deficits in old age. Not only does this provide insights into neurophysiological changes due to aging. It may also help in designing therapies against age-related cognitive decline.”
The research was published in the journal Current Biology.
– © The Daily Telegraph
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