How do we get there? The effects of cognitive ageing on map reading abilities
Authors: O'Malley, Innes and Wiener
Survey tasks that require a change in perspective – such as map reading - are particularly sensitive to the effects of cognitive ageing (Wilkiniss et al., 1997). This was also found in one of our recent studies (O’Malley et al, in preparation) in which we tested young and older adults’ memory of a recently learned route. Older adults, particularly those showing early signs of atypical ageing, showed specific deficits when asked to identify a schematic map of the route that they had just successfully learned, while they performed similar to age matched controls on other aspects of route knowledge. Although informative, a more ecologically valid scenario, that we address in this study, would be for participants to first study a “you-are-here” (YAH) map to plan and memorise a route before they execute it. In this experiment, young and older participants were repeatedly asked to study YAH maps in order to plan routes to goal locations marked on the maps. Once participants were confident that they had memorised the specific route plan, the map was taken away and they were asked to execute the route by navigating through the virtual care environment to where they thought the goal was. We found that older adults took longer to study and plan a route using the maps, and that they got to the goal location significantly less often than the younger controls. Additionally, older adults who showed early signs of atypical ageing performed worse than typically ageing adults.We will discuss the findings in relation to existing ageing research and the implications for navigational aids for older adults.