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What is Spatial Memory?

By Dr. Usmarah Hussain

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What is Spatial Memory

Have you ever noticed how your brain helps you remember and find so many things on a day-to-day basis just based on your memory? For example, it helps you remember the way back home from the grocery store, where you left your keys when you came back from work, or where you parked your car when you went into the shopping mall. Where does all this information come from? Does the brain have anything to do with it? The answer is yes; the brain has everything to do with it. These tidbits of information that keep you going every day without interruptions come from your spatial memory storage, and the brain is in charge of it.

This article will help you grasp the concept of spatial memories using easy everyday examples and discuss its other relevant aspects.

An Overview of Spatial Memory

While you may not appreciate it, there are plenty of examples where you use your spatial memory throughout the day, even when you aren’t thinking much about it. In many cases, this spatial memory is declarative, meaning you have to consciously recall it. However, in other instances, it is automatic and does not require you to specifically recall it. Some common examples of spatial memory include the following:

  • Remembering where you placed your car keys after coming back home
  • Remembering where the light switch is in the storeroom
  • Remembering the position of the furniture in your home
  • Remembering your usual route to the office
  • Remembering where the supermarket is and how to get there from your apartment

In simpler words, spatial memory helps form a map in the brain specific to the environment. Just like prospective memory, which helps you form a future action, this type of memory also plays many critical functions in keeping everyday life smooth and easy. Some of these benefits include the following:

  • It helps us remember places
  • It helps us recognize places as familiar
  • It helps us recall routes from one place to another
  • It helps users devise new shortcuts for reaching a certain place
  • It helps us understand how to find our way around a certain place

As humans, we also use our spatial memory storage to locate objects and remember where to find things. These things may include small objects, such as a book or TV remote, to huge landmarks, such as a certain gas station on the motorway. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that without good spatial memory, we are likely to be lost most of the time.

Brain Areas Involved in Spatial Memory

Brain research conducted so far reveals that the following two types of cells are primarily responsible for the formation of spatial memory:

  • Hippocampal place cells
  • Entorhinal grid cells

Of the two types, entorhinal grid cells play a more significant role by forming an internal positioning system and helping us ascertain our location independent of environmental cues. Once this information is processed by the grid cells, place cells take up this information and use it alongside the environmental cues to form what we know as “a sense of space.”

Brain Areas Involved in Spatial Memory

Another area found in the brainstem that plays a significant role in the formation of spatial memory and awareness is the locus coeruleus. This area sends inputs to the hippocampus, which, in turn, creates neural representations of all new places you go to. [1] The visual cortex is another part of the brain primarily involved in forming the visual aspect of spatial memory.

All types of information perceived by different parts of the brain, as mentioned above, are stored in the hippocampal networks. [2] These networks not only keep the information safe but also make it easily available and retrievable when required. Together with our orientation to time, this stored spatial information helps us become more aware of the social environment we are in.

Are There Different Types of Spatial Memory?

Spatial memory can be categorized into the following two types:

Short-Term Spatial Memory

Also known as spatial working memory, this short-term memory is what you use when you are trying tor recall the location of something soon after seeing it or placing it somewhere. This type of memory is also used as you try to navigate the position of the furniture in your house in complete darkness.

Long-Term Spatial Memory

Long-term spatial memory includes a memory of things that you may have repeatedly seen or gotten involved in some way, forcing the brain to encode them into long-term memory. For example, remembering all the twists and turns you take to reach your office or recalling the place where an event took place in the past are all examples of long-term spatial memory.

Can We Lose Our Spatial Memory? Factors Leading to Memory Loss

Many brain conditions can trigger spatial memory loss, although it may not be reported in the early stages. Most people don’t report this memory loss, mainly because they are unaware of its significance and categorization. That said, remember that problems with spatial memory are often among the earliest manifestations of many brain disorders.

Losing Spatial Memory.png

Following are some causes that may alter your spatial memory.

Brain Injury

A traumatic brain injury, especially localized to the right hemisphere of the brain or the hippocampus, can cause spatial memory loss. Fortunately, this memory loss may be temporary in some cases, with memory coming back with time.


Stroke has the ability to directly affect the hippocampus, messing with the memory storage in the brain. The damage may sometimes extend into the right hippocampus, leading to spatial memory loss.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease remains the most common cause of memory loss in older adults. The disease targets the hippocampus, leading to spatial memory loss as one of the earliest signs. Unfortunately, not many people can pick up this sign and report to their doctors promptly.


Memory loss related to aging is quite common, and there is nothing much you can do about it. It is natural to struggle to remember where you put your wallet, or last saw your phone as you grow older. While many experts believe that the effects of aging on spatial memory are irreversible, newer studies suggest otherwise.[3] These studies confirming the potential reversibility of age-related spatial memory loss are yet to involve humans, but their results seem promising.

  • Stress: Studies confirm that stress may lead to permanent deficits in spatial memory with time. [4]
  • Vestibular Loss: This condition refers to loss of balance due to problems in the inner ear. Vestibular loss may lead to spatial memory deficits by inducing atrophy or destruction in the hippocampus. [5]

Can You Improve Your Spatial Awareness and Memory?

Studies confirm that you can work on your spatial awareness at any time, regardless of your age.

Improve Spatial Memory

The following suggestions can make the process easier:

Adopt a new hobby

Certain activities, such as drawing and photography, can significantly promote spatial awareness and memory. So whenever you have some extra time in hand, why not go for it?

Play a video game

We now know that playing video games is not all bad after all. Playing certain games that involve moving and manipulating objects has been found to improve spatial memory and awareness. Puzzle Games, such as Tetris, have been specifically related to these improvements in spatial skills. [6]

Choose healthy activities

Putting puzzles together with your kids not only lets you have some fun time but can also improve your spatial skills. Chess and other visual memory games have also been found to provide comparable benefits.

Exercise more

We know that exercise is good for your overall health, stamina, and mood. Recent studies also confirm that it plays an important role in regulating your spatial skills. Resistance exercise, in particular, can improve the greatest spatial awareness in adults. [7] So don’t forget to hit the gum whenever you have enough time.

When to Seek Help For Spatial Memory Loss?

If you have started experiencing frequent memory issues, such as forgetting where things are or getting lost while driving or walking, even in areas you have been familiar with for years, you might be experiencing spatial memory loss. The best advice is to seek help as soon as you notice these problems to be on the safe side.

The moment you notice these deficits in your spatial memory or any type of memory, get in touch with a healthcare professional right away. Certain diseases, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, can be controlled through additional treatment options when caught early. A psychologist can use memory tests to determine if an underlying problem warrants treatment.

If you feel like stress is one of the contributing or exacerbating factors behind your ongoing memory loss, a license therapist can help. This therapist can work with you to identify and manage the sources of stress. Studies confirm that psychotherapy can effectively treat stress and even help with memory issues. Moreover, you can always connect with your local support groups for extra support and help.


Spatial memory remains one of the most important components of long- and short-term memory. Used multiple times daily, spatial memory is vulnerable to damage that can dramatically affect your life. However, identifying these memory losses early and seeking treatment can considerably cut down the side effects and maintain the quality of life.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the role of spatial memory in daily life?

Spatial memory seems to have one of the most imperative cognitive functions in everyday life. It helps us distinguish places and roads and even recognize a simple object in a specific environment.

Can physical activity boost my spatial memory?

Researchers believe that people who perform frequent exercise at high intensities are likely to do better in tasks involving spatial memory.

Is spatial memory cognitive?

Yes, spatial memory is a cognitive process that allows an individual to remember different locations and appreciates spatial relations between different objects.

What are the signs of having a troubled spatial awareness or memory?

The presence of the following signs may indicate an underlying issue with your spatial memory: Problems pinpointing the location of something you hear, feel, or see; Confusion with directions; Problems navigating through the environment while driving or walking; Issues while gauging distance from an object as you are walking, driving, etc.; Problems with coordination; Poor recognition of personal space, resulting in standing too far or too close to others; Difficulties with writing, reading, or doing math problems.


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