The Symptoms of Developmental Topographical Disorientation

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Has there ever been a time when you all of a sudden lost your orientation or didn’t know which direction you were facing. To people with this disorder, it happens all of the time. If this happens to you, you could have developmental topographical disori

Has there ever been a time when you all of a sudden lost your orientation or didn’t know which direction you were facing. To people with this disorder, it happens all of the time and this is more than just being momentarily disorientated. If this happens to you often, you could have developmental topographical disorientation.

This has probably happened to all of us at one time, driving through an unfamiliar area with all kinds of winding streets until you just don’t know where north is. Developmental topographical disorientation (DTD) is more than this, it happens every day to some people. Whether they are driving somewhere or just walking down the hall at work. It is a newly discovered brain disorder, but it isn’t a new disorder to the people have had this all of their lives, yet afraid to really discuss it with anyone until now.

Being orientated is a cognitive function of the brain and is one of the most complex. Our brains are actually able to track directions and distances traveled, which is constantly being updated to let us know our location with respect to our starting point. The information all around us goes into our brains to update us. In some places people will see mountains and know that is west, or they will see a tall landmark and realize that is a certain direction. Some people are better at this than others.

People with developmental topographical disorientation suddenly feel like the whole world around them has been shifted 90 degrees. What was north is now east and everything else is turned around. These shifts can happen every few minutes. People with this disorientation disorder report that they get lost in their own yards and homes. At work they suddenly don’t know which way to go in a place they have worked at for years. Yet, they can watch television and read newspapers and books just fine. If this happens while driving, getting directions won’t help since they don’t know what direction is what. Some people say that when they get this sudden disorientation, they can clear it by closing their eyes and spinning. Which sounds interesting to me, since most people would get disorientated closing their eyes and spinning around.

It was first discovered or diagnosed in early 2009 by Dr. Guiseppe Iaria who is a neurologist at the University of Calgary. Other research into developmental topographical disorientation is being conducted at the University of British Columbia and the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute documented the first case of developmental topographical disorientation in a patient with no known brain damage or cognitive impairment. It is known that lesions on certain parts of the brain can cause this disorientation, yet the patients who have been tested had no such lesions on their brains.

Since developmental topographical disorientation was discovered a year ago, there are no known causes or treatment yet. Research is continuing using MRI studies of the patient’s brains to determine the cause.

You can take a comprehensive online 90-minute test that can assess your different orientation skills. If you want, you can leave your email address and they will send back your scores and a description of the cognitive skills on each test. It is hoped that these tests will help to identify the reasons some people have the developmental topographical disorientation disorder. 

If you have this disorder or think you have it, at least now you can know that you aren’t alone with it and hopefully there will be a breakthrough soon.

© 2009 Sam Montana

Helpful Resources

Developmental Topographical Disorientation web site

Developmental Topographical Disorientation Forum


Posted on Nov 13, 2009
Sam Montana
Posted on Nov 6, 2009