Aging and Spatial Navigation: What Do We Know and Where Do We Go?
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- Moffat, S.D. Neuropsychol Rev (2009) 19: 478. doi:10.1007/s11065-009-9120-3
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Spatial navigation is a complex cognitive skill that is necessary for everyday functioning in the environment. However, navigational skills are not typically measured in most test batteries assessing cognitive aging. The present paper reviews what we know about behavioral differences between older and younger adults in navigational skill and reviews the putative neural mechanisms that may underlie these behavioral differences. Empirical studies to date clearly identify navigation as an aspect of cognitive function that is vulnerable to the aging process. The few functional and structural neuroimaging studies that speak to neurological correlates of these age-related differences point to the hippocampus, parahippocampal gyrus, posterior cingulate gyrus (retrosplenial cortex), parietal lobes and pre-frontal cortex as structures critically involved in age effects on navigation. Outstanding issues in the field are addressed and productive avenues of future research are suggested. Among these outstanding issues include the necessity of performing longitudinal studies and differentiating between hippocampal and extra-hippocampal contributions to aging in navigation. The field may also be advanced by empirical assessment of navigational strategies and investigations into the multisensory nature of navigation including assessing the relative contributions of visual, vestibular, and proprioceptive function to age differences in navigational skill.