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KUSA - You pull into the grocery store parking lot in a hurry. You park your car and run in to grab a few items. You rush out, bag in tow, only to discover you have no idea where you left your car. You slowly wander the parking lot, trying to look like you know where you are going, all the while pressing the unlock button on your keychain in the hope that you will be close enough to the beeping car that people will not realize what you are doing.

This is a scene that plays out daily for millions of people. And researchers from Dartmouth College have now discovered the region of the brain responsible for it. In addition to helping us find our cars, and our keys, and our phones, the new research has promise in helping individuals with Alzheimer's disease.

The Dartmouth scientists used a new research technique known as chemogenetics to turn on and off certain areas of a rat's brain. By injecting a virus and several other chemicals into the rat, they were able to isolate a little-studied area of the brain known as the retrosplenial cortex and show that it is crucial to the beginning of the formation of contextual memories.

"Contextual memories are what help you remember physical spaces. When you remember where you were during an emotional event like 9/11 or when you remember where you left your reading glasses—those are contextual memories," 9NEWS psychologist Dr. Max Wachtel said.

Although it may seem unnecessary to determine the region of the brain responsible for helping keep us from losing our keys, Dr. Max said the research is promising.

"The retrosplenial cortex is one of the first areas of the brain that suffers damage during Alzheimer's disease," he said. "It now makes sense that the initial symptoms of this type of dementia involve losing small items like keys or remote controls. By learning more about the regions of the brain associated with contextual memory, new treatments from Alzheimer's might be able to vastly improve the quality of life for many people."

The new study is published in the August 2014 issues of Journal of Neuroscience.

(Copyright © 2014 USA TODAY)

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