Getting lost behind home

At least once in a lifetime a lot of people have got lost but … when it happens at home, you may be suffering from a rare disturbance called “topographic disorientation” that affects about 1% of the world’s population.

People suffering from topographic disorientation are not people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease,  they are healthy people without any particular symptom but simply have no sense of orientation.


The “patient 1”

This rare disorder was discovered a few years ago by an Italian neuroscientist who described the first case of a patient with topographic disorientation: this woman wasn’t able to find the right track, even in the most familiar places, despite being perfectly healthy. Today that patient has succeeded, even if with difficulty, to memorize the home-work journey, which must always be the same, otherwise she might

 get lost. Several studies have shown that the hippocampus is the major  responsible for the patients’ failure to create a mental map with the main points of reference.

There are 2 types of topographical disorientation. In the first case, it is difficult to learn new paths and feel lost in new places; while in the second case the patients have difficulty in recognizing known or familiar paths and places (such as the rooms of their own home).

A case

Mary McLaurine told the Washington Post what it is like when you  have thatr rare disorder: “I knew I was safe. I was only a few blocks from where I had started my walk with Otis, the beagle I was dog-sitter for. it didn’t matter though: fear and adrenaline throbbed in my veins, I began to sweat, feeling even more confused. I had no idea where I was and everything around me was completely unknown to me. It was as if I was in a land. In any direction I walked the question was always the same: Am I moving away from or nearing where I should be going? ” and adds: “I can’t form a mind map, or an image of the environment I’m in. At 61, I still get lost and it’s still as scary as it was many years ago. I’m terrified of driving without someone to keep me company. Even to reach the supermarket just one kilometer from home it takes hours “. 

Moreover, Mary does not feel understood, in fact she says: “They can’t understand what it feels like to feel completely and absolutely lost … giving me directions, pretending that I can understand them is like asking a blind man to see the yellow color. To you, you can’t go wrong. It is bright and golden! Society easily accepts blindness and understands its principles: a person cannot see, no matter how bright he is. We are branded as “idiots”, left to our feelings of anxiety , depression, isolation and insecurity “.

In general, there is no real cure to this disease, but to improve their condition patients can, for example, train with specific video games, try to memorize places and points of reference or psychotherapy that helps not only can be important to restore the cognitive functions of the brain, but also to recover emotions and personality, thanks to the use of images, drawings, songs.

Monica Caramanna


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