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Front Aging Neurosci. 2012 Sep 13;4:25. eCollection 2012.

Remote spatial memory in aging: all is not lost.

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  • 1Neuroscience Graduate Diploma Program, Department of Psychology, York University Toronto, ON, Canada ; Rotman Research Institute, Baycrest Toronto, ON, Canada.

Abstract

The ability to acquire and retain spatial memories in order to navigate in new environments is known to decline with age, but little is known about the effect of aging on representations of environments learned long ago, in the remote past. To investigate the status of remote spatial memory in old age, we tested healthy young and older adults on a variety of mental navigation tests based on a large-scale city environment that was very familiar to participants but rarely visited by the older adults in recent years. We show that whereas performance on a route learning test of new spatial learning was significantly worse in older than younger adults, performance was comparable or better in the older adults on mental navigation tests based on a well-known environment learned long ago. An exception was in the older adults' ability to vividly re-experience the well-known environment, and recognize and represent the visual details contained within it. The results are seen as analogous to the pattern of better semantic than episodic memory that has been found to accompany healthy aging.

KEYWORDS:

aging; hippocampus; landmark recognition; mental navigation; recollection; remote memory; route learning; spatial memory

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