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

Eileen Han-Jie Wang*, Frank Lai, Alice Tsz-Yan Shiu, Hui Yan Wong, Sharifa Wing-Man Leung, Daniel Ting-hoi Chan, Benjamin K. Yee

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterpeer-review


BackgroundVirtual-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.
MethodsThree 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 3×2×3 (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 2×2×8 (Age groupsxInterference typesxTarget-zones) ANOVAs.
ResultsThe 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.
Conclusionsur 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 - 16 Jun 2023


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