I forget the route to places I haven't been to in a while

It can be frustrating or alarming to find yourself getting lost on a route you thought you knew, but usually, a little forethought and planning can overcome this. Many of us rely on satnav (satellite navigation) software in our phones or cars, which can be a handy solution.

When we remember a route, we can either remember a complete route on a map pictured in our head, or we can remember it as a chain of locations. If we use the chain approach, forgetting one link can be disastrous. We can't get back on the route because we can only get to the next place directly from the previous one. Are you a "headmap" person, or a "location chain" person?

Tips and tricks

  • Always keep a map in the car or your bag, which you can consult en route. Your phone likely has a map function that you can use. 
  • Check routes on maps in advance and if you need to, make a photocopy or brief route notes for reference. This will help in two ways. By thinking about the route in advance and preparing the route notes, you will have reminded yourself of the way. You will also have the notes for guidance when travelling.
  • If necessary and possible, invest in a satnav. Satnavs can give directions to people driving, cycling or walking. Be sure to check that your attention is good enough to cope with a satnav whilst driving. You may want to turn off the spoken commands.
  • If fatigue affects your routefinding, ensure you are well rested before a journey.

Professional help

If your wayfinding difficulties are fairly mild, and just occur on long journeys you occasionally make by car, then a routine for using maps and routes from websites and books may be all you need.

If your wayfinding difficulties are more severe, and you have been getting lost on frequently travelled local routes, then you may need help to develop clear map and route protocols, as well as safety procedures for when you are lost. A cognitive psychologist or therapist could help you work through the best options for you.

Involving family and friends

Finding you way around on well-known routes is a skill we all take for granted. It can be unnerving to find that it is no longer automatic. Family and friends may have started to notice your difficulties, because you have been late at social or work events, or perhaps they were with you when you couldn't find your way somewhere.

You may be able to overcome these problems yourself. However, if your family, friends or colleagues know that remembering routes can catch you out, they can help.

Haupts M, Calabrese P, Babinsky R, Markowitsch HJ, Gehlen W.
Everyday memory impairment, neuroradiological findings and physical disability in multiple sclerosis.
Eur J Neurol. 1994 Nov;1(2):159-63.
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