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Help! I Can’t Find My Car. Should I Worry?

parked car with graffiti
parked car with graffiti
Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

You walk out of the mall and stop cold. Your car isn’t where you thought you parked it. Did someone steal it? Am I going crazy? If you’ve ever had the experience, you know the feeling. Confusion, panic, and finally relief . . . when you do find it.

Researchers at Dartmouth College have been working on trying to figure out why we remember certain events, ranging from the day we got married to where we parked the car. Although scientists have known that a specific network of brain regions is important for contextual memory, the Dartmouth team has discovered how different parts of the network contribute to the process of storing these memories in the restrosplenial cortex.1

Another recent study showed that the hippocampus, another key brain region involved in contextual associations, is not totally responsible for forming the initial associations that underlie contextual memory. Rather, that memory is more dynamic and changeable than previously thought. Important interactions between the hippocampus and the neocortex have different yet complementary roles in remembering places and events. 2

Until we know more about how to improve contextual memory, relax. Just because you can’t find your car, or car keys for that matter, it doesn’t mean you have mild cognitive impairment.

Tips for locating your parked car

  • If you have a smart phone, take a photo of where you parked (the nearest cross street, or the identifying number or letter in a parking garage).
  • If you don’t have a smart phone: In a multilevel indoor garage, park on the roof. It gives you a visual reference of where you are parked.
  • In an outdoor mall parking lot, park along the outside edge, next to the street.
  • Write it down: any identifying number, letter or object
  • Park near an identifying object, such as a tree, brightly painted building, etc.
  • Add a “stand-out” feature to your car: a colorful ribbon, flag, or antenna ball.
  • Download an app that can use your phone’s GPS record of your location.

Tips for supporting your memory

  • Include regular exercise in your health regimen.
  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Drink 6-8 glasses of pure water each day.
  • Enjoy salmon and/or herring, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, lake trout that contain essential fatty acids, twice a week.


1. Siobhan Robinson, Travis P. Todd, Anna R. Pasternak, Bryan W. Luikart, Patrick D. Skelton, Daniel J. Urban, and David J. Bucci. Chemogenetic Silencing of Neurons in Retrosplenial Cortex Disrupts Sensory Preconditioning. The Journal of Neuroscience, August 2014 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1349-14.2014

2. Canadian Association for Neuroscience. "Memory is a dynamic and interactive process, new research shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 May 2014. <>.

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