Spatial Cognitive Aging: Cognitive Map Decay and Compensatory Augmentations for Older Adults
Christopher R. Bennett. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, February 2017, University of Maine. (N.A. Giudice: thesis advisor)
This dissertation research investigated navigation related spatio-cognitive changes associated with normal and healthy lifespan development. Age-related changes can negatively impact navigation ability, including increased safety concerns, greater risk of getting lost, and reduced navigation confidence for older adults. Experiment 1 explored the interaction between spatial memory and age. Participants learned 1, 3, or 6 target locations and were then asked to walk to one of these locations either directly or indirectly. Results showed that age had a significant impact on spatial memory limitations, as older adults were significantly less precise and accurate with responses when 3 to 6 targets were learned. Experiment 2 studied navigation behavior during driving between older and younger adults using an immersive virtual reality simulator. Participants were monitored as they drove a course that contained specific driving events known a priori to cause problems for older adults during real-world driving, such as intersection awareness and lane drifting. Results reflect clear disadvantages for older adult drivers as compared to younger drivers, but show that the same concerns in real world driving arise in the virtual simulation.
Experiments 3 and 4 characterized how stored cognitive maps, a critical mental structure needed to support navigation, change over time as a function of age. Participants learned outdoor (experiment 3) and indoor (experiment 4) environments, and then maintained those mental representations over the course of 2 weeks. Results demonstrated that the process of cognitive map decay follows a logarithmic trend over this temporal delay and occurs at greater magnitude for older adults as compared to their younger counterparts. The fifth study in this dissertation tested mitigation of cognitive map decay in older adults through the use of compensatory augmentations (spatial knowledge aids). The augmentations focused on online learning through enhanced visual access to landmarks and memory reconsolidation to support offline memory retention. Results show that the compensatory augmentations developed and tested were successful in reducing cognitive map decay. Contributions from this dissertation extend known theories of spatial aging literature to characterize a process of cognitive map decay for older adults and develop / evaluate solutions to reduce this decay.