London’s cabbies are some of the best taxi drivers in the world.

They have to be able to thread their way through the city’s 58.000 or so streets.

They’re famous for their ability to plan routes by remembering thousands of the capital’s streets and it is this ability that is now helping in the fight against dementia.

By completing the Knowledge of London, acquired through years of training in specific Knowledge Schools, London’s cabbies learn to navigate through the city’s 58,000 streets without the use of GPS and automated instructions.

This unique ability to reliably and flexibly adapt to situational factors and plan routes on a daily basis, has a remarkable impact on their brains.

In a study, researchers found that in taxi drivers the part of the brain involved in spatial navigation — the part known as the hippocampus — is larger than in other people.

At the same time, the hippocampus seems to be an area affected in those suffering from Alzheimer’s, which can explain why they become disoriented and have increasing difficulties finding their way as the disease progresses.

The Taxi Brains Project, run by The Spatial Cognition Group at University College London, is analysing the brains of taxi driver with MRI scans as they plan routes through London.

Possessing a larger part of the brain that shrinks early in Alzheimer’s disease – the hippocampus – licensed black cab drivers represent a unique test opportunity.

The results of the trial, researchers say, will help provide critical insights in helping science to develop diagnostics to detect Alzheimer’s disease earlier.

Two elite drivers from London Electric Vehicle Company (LEVC), Patrick Follen and Peter Powell, who helped LEVC test the TX electric taxi on the streets of London, are participants.

LEVC manufactures purpose-built, range extended electric TX taxi and TX shuttle models at a state-of-the-art factory in Ansty, Coventry — with the financial backing of the Chinese Geely.

The project is being headed up by Professor Hugo Spiers in the Department of Experimental Psychology at University College London.

To find out more about the Taxi Brains project, visit:


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Chris Riley has been a journalist for almost 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.
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