Detecting age-dependent deterioration of spatial working memory with a virtual water maze paradigm in human subjects

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Virtual-Morris Water Maze (V-MWM) has been developed to assess potential hippocampal-dependent memory decline. Previous attempts showed the V-MWM was sensitive in detecting age-related reference memory decline, but our pilot study indicated that elderly often could not complete the tasks within 60s. Therefore, we have investigated further the use of a spatial working memory paradigm to evaluate one-trial learning task allowing for up to 120s per trial.
Three age groups were recruited from the community with a cross-sectional design. The Young Adult (YA,n=22), Young Elderly (YE,n=30) and older elderly (OE,n=19) groups defined according to the subjects’ age in years: 18-45, 60-69, and 70 or above, respectively. The V-MWM was programmed using MazeWaker. Subjects navigated in a 3D circular arena, defined by uniform walls and presented on a 14-inch screen using an arrow key. Eight distal 3D-cues located outside the arena. A total of 8 possible locations assigned randomly to every two consecutive trials. The two trials were separated by 5s or interspersed by a comic strip for 15s. The target become visible after 120s. Working memory was indexed by more efficient navigation from trial-1 to trial-2 in terms of latency or path-length, indexed by the ratio: T2/(T1+T2) and subjected to a 3x2x3 (AgexInterference typesxLocations) ANOVAs. Two 60s-nonrevealing probe tests were conducted on trials 8th and 16th. Percent path-length near the 8 possible target-zones using separate 2x2x8 (Age groupsxInterference typesxTarget-zones) ANOVAs.
The YA group outperformed both the YE and OE groups (F(2,68)=8.17, p=.001), but no significant group by interference interaction was revealed. However, the 15s-interference tended to increase the latency in both YA and YE groups (F(1,68)=9.05, p<.005). An overall preference for the target zone was identified in both percent time and path-length (F(7,62)=6.03 and 8.71, respectively, p<.001), together with a significant Age x Zones interaction (F(14,126)=8.71, p<.001) indicative of reduce target zone preference in the OE relative to YA, with YE performing at an intermediate level.
Our V-MWM working test was sensitive to detect age-related visual-spatial working memory deterioration, but our interference procedures were insufficient to reduce working memory performance in all groups. Alternative interference may be considered in the future.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2022


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