How London Black Cabs Could Help Fight Dementia Crisis
Brain scans of London Black Cab drivers could offer solutions to helping fight dementia.
After taking MRI scans of London taxi drivers’ brains as they worked out destination routes, scientists have discovered that cabbies have larger hippocampus areas than the rest of the population.
The hippocampus plays a major role in learning and memory, and in people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s the area is known to shrink.
The longer taxi drivers continue their job, the larger the hippocampus grows, The Times reports.
The results are set to be shared with the UK’s leading dementia research charity, Alzheimer’s Research UK, in the hopes that the discovery could help patients get treated sooner, through earlier diagnosis.
In order to become a taxi driver in London, a task called ‘The Knowledge’ must be completed. It consists of 100,000 landmarks and 26,000 streets having to be committed to memory.
The assessment takes from three to four years to finish and is considered the world’s most challenging memory test, with cab drivers having been required to take it ever since 1865.
The study, titled ‘Taxi Brains’, was carried out by PhD students and professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London, Hugo Spiers.
London cabbies have unique brains. They have a difference in the size of their hippocampus. It’s a small increase but highly significant. You can’t study these people in New York. There is no other city in the world that has that kind of similarity.
One of the main effects of Alzheimer’s on a person is on their ability to navigate spaces, often resulting in them becoming ‘disorientated’ and feeling ‘lost’.
‘What we’re hoping to understand better is the potential impact of certain lifestyles, in this case navigating every day for most of your adult life using your own memory and not Google, and what is that doing to your brain,’ Spiers explained.
The discovery that the knowledge required to be a taxi driver helps the hippocampus’ development was first made by Irish neuroscientist Eleanor Maguire in 2000, and confirmed by a further study in 2011.
London cab drivers receive £30 for their participation and if you want to get involved, you can visit @taxibrains on Twitter.
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