Relying on satnavs and map-reading apps could lead to an increased risk of Alzheimer‘s, expert fears

Putting your faith in high-tech navigation aids could harm your brain and even increase the risk of developing Alzheimer‘s, it was claimed yesterday.

Over thousands of years, humans have developed an acute sense of their surroundings but this is being lost as satnavs take over, navigation expert David Barrie warned.

He said that by using Maps, satnavs and other ‘very sad, dangerous‘ gadgets, people are cutting themselves off from the world and may be preventing their brain – particularly the hippocampus, which deals with learning and memory – from building up a resilience it requires later in life.

‘Crucially, as we become more and more dependent on these electronic gadgets to find our way around, we are becoming more and more cut off from the natural world,‘ Mr Barrie, a former UK diplomat, told an audience at the Hay Festival.

‘This sense of immersion in nature, and losing yourself in the natural world and the extraordinary rewards that come from that, well you lose that.

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There may be deeper problems, too, because the parts of your brain that are responsible for your ability to navigate need exercise and if they‘re not exercised they literally shrink.

‘It is 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 the lack of use or has considerably less resilience for coping with the onslaught of the disease. 

So that‘s actually quite a good reason to want to maintain those parts of the brain by exercising them.‘

Mr Barrie, who has written books on animal navigation, including how dung beetles steer using the light from the Milky Way, added that as well as the mental issues that navigational gadgets risk, there are practical disadvantages to using them.

‘It doesn‘t always work, especially in cities where you get a lot of reflections off buildings,‘ he said.