Although it is well known that aging impairs navigation performance, the underlying mechanisms remain largely unknown. Previous study suggested that the egocentric strategy was relatively unimpaired during aging. In this study, we aimed to examine strategy use and the underlying cognitive supporting mechanisms in older adults with the virtual reality star maze.
Thirty young adults and thirty-one older adults participated in the study. During the learning trials, participants were required to reach a fixed destination in a virtual reality star maze task. In an additional probe trial, the distal landmarks around the maze were removed, and the strategy using was classified into egocentric and non-egocentric according to whether participants could reach the destination directly.
The results revealed that older adults adopting egocentric strategy completed the navigation task as accurate as young adults, whereas older adults using non-egocentric strategy were selectively impaired. The relatively well-maintained egocentric strategy in older adults was related to better visuo-spatial ability.
Visuo-spatial ability might play an important role in navigation accuracy and navigation strategy of older adults. This study demonstrated the potential value of the virtual reality star maze in evaluating navigation strategy and visuo-spatial ability in older adults.