How age-related strategy switching deficits affect wayfinding in complex environments

Mathew A. Harris*, Thomas Wolbers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Although most research on navigation in aging focuses on allocentric processing deficits, impaired strategy switching may also contribute to navigational decline. Using a specifically designed task involving navigating a town-like virtual environment, we assessed the ability of young and old participants to switch from following learned routes to finding novel shortcuts. We found large age differences in the length of routes taken during testing and in use of shortcuts, as, while nearly all young participants switched from the egocentric route-following strategy to the allocentric wayfinding strategy, none of the older participants stably switched. Although secondary tasks confirmed that older participants were impaired both at strategy switching and allocentric processing, the difficulty in using shortcuts was selectively related to impaired strategy switching. This may in turn relate to dysfunction of the prefrontal-noradrenergic network responsible for coordinating switching behavior. We conclude that the large age difference in performance at the shortcutting task demonstrates for the first time, how strategy switching deficits can have a severe impact on navigation in aging. (C) 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1095-1102
Number of pages8
JournalNeurobiology of Aging
Volume35
Issue number5
Early online date21 Oct 2013
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2014

Keywords

  • Aging
  • Navigation
  • Strategy switching
  • Shortcutting
  • Route learning
  • Virtual reality
  • MONTREAL COGNITIVE ASSESSMENT
  • MEDIAL PREFRONTAL CORTEX
  • BEHAVIORAL FLEXIBILITY
  • ENTORHINAL CORTEX
  • PATH-INTEGRATION
  • CAUDATE-NUCLEUS
  • SPATIAL MEMORY
  • ATROPHY RATES
  • HIPPOCAMPUS
  • IMPAIRMENT

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