Sufferers of the rare neurological condition, Developmental Topographical Disorientation, otherwise known as DTD, exhibit limited navigational skills and seem totally unable to form ‘cognitive maps’.
While there are no official figures, researchers estimate that between 1 and 2 percent of people have the condition, with sufferers literally having to re-learn their way around every day, whether that’s the layout of their house, or their locality. Furthermore, as this condition is so rare, people often suffer in silence as they’re too worried to reveal their secret.
For a person with DTD, simple things like driving can often present a big problem, although with the advent of sat nav technology, this is becoming more accessible. Even so, some sufferers find that trying to understand GPS directions also causes them significant issues. Imagine it now, never being able to travel unaccompanied to new places for fear of not being able to navigate your way back, or parking your car in the local car park to go shopping and facing a nightmare trying to locate it again. Some DTD sufferers have described the condition as being like a continual tourist, in that no matter how much you visit a place, each visit will always feel like the first time you’ve ever been there.
In 2008 a neuroscientist at the University of Calgary, Guiseppe Iaria, published a paper identifying the first recorded case of DTD, following research into people’s navigational skills and why some people are much better at map reading and spatial directions than others. Through his research, he found that the condition was not acquired, in that there was no obvious brain damage, but that it was a skill that wasn’t there at all, with sufferers having the normal brain structure of a healthy adult.
Six years later in 2014, Iaria and his team published a further paper after studying the brains of people with DTD, where they found that the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex (parts of the brain which play a major role in spatial orientation) didn’t operate in sync, and that their inability to form cognitive maps was due to a disconnection between the brain’s information highways. As a result of this discovery, scientists now hope to better understand how to help those who suffer from this debilitating condition.