Spatial Navigation and Aging in Two Virtual Reality Environments
Beauvais, Alison R.
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The spatial navigation of older (65 years and above) and younger adults (less than 65 years) was assessed in a virtual maze setting and in a virtual Morris Water Maze. The Morris Water Maze has been used extensively as a means for studying the cognitive aging in animals, and so in this study it has been applied to human learning and memory systems in a virtual reality context. Forty-two individuals were grouped into either the old or young category respectively. Participants were acclimated to the computer equipment in several trial phases before they were tested in both the maze (a series of interconnected pathways) and the virtual Morris Water Maze programs, which were counter-balanced across participants. Older participants took longer and traveled a greater distance to reach the goal in each maze trial. They also made significantly more spatial memory errors than younger participants in the virtual maze. Cognitive mapping skills of the virtual Morris Water Maze were analyzed to reveal that older individuals had a more difficult time locating the actual platform during the probe trial than did younger individuals. Older participants traversed a greater distance overall when asked to locate the hidden platform in the virtual Morris Water Maze, which further illustrated the age-related deficits associated with spatial navigation.