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Exp Aging Res. 2019 Mar-Apr;45(2):180-198. doi: 10.1080/0361073X.2019.1586106. Epub 2019 Mar 21.

Predictors of Performance in Real and Virtual Scenarios across Age.

Parra MA1,2,3,4,5, Kaplan RI2.

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a School of Social Sciences, Psychology , University Heriot-Watt , Edinburgh , UK.
b Human Cognitive Neuroscience , Edinburgh University , Edinburgh , UK.
c Alzheimer's Scotland Dementia Research Centre, University of Edinburgh , Edinburgh , UK.
d Neuroprogressive and Dementia Network , NHS Scotland , UK.
e Universidad Autónoma del Caribe, Programa de Psicología, Barranquilla , Colombia.



Virtual reality applications to assist older adult with cognitive and functional decline are fast growing. However, such technological developments face limitations such as due to limited constructs and ecological validity. This study was aimed at investigating age-related changes in functional abilities and their associated cognitive underpinnings during task performance in virtual and real environments.


Twenty-two younger adults (university students) and 22 older adults (aged 58-74) performed a multiple errands task twice, once in the "Discoveries" section of the National Museum of Scotland and once in the same room as a virtual environment. Accuracy and distance traveled were measured in both groups. Cognitive and daily living abilities were recorded in older adults using standard and novel questionnaires.


The testing environment had a significant effect on how efficient individuals performed the task. Older and younger adults' performance was alike but older adults relied on more cognitive resources. Older adults struggled in the virtual but not in the real environment. Younger but not older adults could transfer knowledge between environments.


The use of technology to assist frail older adults and those affected by dementia is growing rapidly. For these novel tools to be theoretically valid, they need to incorporate knowledge of the challenges they pose to these vulnerable groups. Here we present evidence of such challenges and their cognitive underpinnings. This theory may be considered by future applications aimed at enhancing functional abilities in these populations.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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