How badly does aging affect your ability to remember places?

Aging significantly impacts spatial memory, the ability to remember places, primarily due to changes in the hippocampus.

The hippocampus is crucial for forming and retrieving spatial memories and as it deteriorates with age, so does the ability to navigate and recall locations.

A study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience highlights that structural changes in the brain, such as the shrinkage of the hippocampus and a reduction in gray matter, are common in aging [1].

These changes are associated with decreased performance in spatial memory tasks. Functional changes, including reduced connectivity between the hippocampus and other brain regions, also contribute to memory impairment.

Neuroimaging studies have shown less activation in the hippocampus during spatial memory tasks in older adults than in younger individuals [2]. Research involving navigation tasks in virtual environments has demonstrated that older adults often struggle with spatial memory [3].

They tend to be less accurate and slower in learning new routes. Allocentric navigation, which concerns understanding the relationship between numerous locations independently of one’s current position, is particularly affected.

In contrast, egocentric navigation, which relies on personal perspective and movement, is less impacted by aging.

The extent of spatial memory decline varies among individuals, influenced by factors such as genetics and lifestyle. Some older adults maintain relatively intact spatial memory, suggesting that other factors play a role in this cognitive function.

Regular physical activity, social engagement and mental stimulation are crucial in maintaining spatial memory. Exercise promotes hippocampal neurogenesis and the growth of new neurons, which can help preserve spatial memory functions.

Engaging in activities that challenge the brain, such as puzzles and learning new skills, can enhance cognitive reserve and potentially delay the onset of memory decline.

The diet also influences cognitive health. Diets rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients support brain function and may protect against age-related cognitive decline [4]. Conversely, a diet high in processed foods and sugars is associated with faster cognitive aging.

Preventive measures and interventions can help mitigate the effects of aging on spatial memory. Cognitive training programs designed to enhance spatial memory and navigation skills show promise in improving performance in older adults [5].

These programs often include exercises that simulate real-life navigation challenges and encourage using allocentric and egocentric strategies.


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