London cabbies’ remarkable memories helping dementia research

Major breakthrough for Alzheimer’s and similar diseases

If you ever hop in a London taxi, you’ll know that car will not have a satnav.

This is because unlike their Uber rivals, drivers spin through the streets on knowledge alone.

In fact, anyone who wants to get behind the wheel of a black cab needs to take a test about the map of the city (aptly named The Knowledge) – which can take four years to master!

[Credit: Charles Etoroma]

The cabbies’ incredible ability to conquer thousands of roads within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross is now being used to help research into dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The fascinating reason is that as their hippocampus, the area of the brain that takes care of spatial awareness, appears to get bigger the more years they put into the job.

As you may have guessed, the hippocampus also just so happens to be the part of the brain that shrinks following a dementia diagnosis.

The hippocampus is embedded deep into the temporal lobe (that sits behind the ears) and plays a major role in learning and memory.

[Credit: Taxi Brains]

Now, 30 drivers will be put through their paces for a special study run by the extremely prestigious University College London and supported by Alzheimer’s Research UK.

While the experiment hopes to unearth new findings, it is a follow-up to a study dating back 20 years by UCL neuroscientist Professor Eleanor Maguire.

She discovered that cabbies boasted a large hippocampus, just as squirrels do as they require spatial awareness to bury their nuts in many different locations rather than one place.

Speaking about the upcoming research, Professor Hugo Spiers, from UCL’s department of experimental psychology, said avoiding Google Maps could even lead to improving brains.

[Credit: JJ Ying]

Spiers said: “Maybe there’s something very protective about working out your spatial knowledge on a daily basis, like these guys do.

“It may not necessarily be spatial, but just using your brain rather than Google Maps might actually help, in the same way that physical fitness is important.”

Chatting to Positive News, he revealed that research will involve taxi drivers being tested on their navigational skills while undergoing MRI scans to map their brains.

Might be time to delete that map app.

If you are a cabbie or know one, you can get involved here: Taxi Brains.

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