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SPATIAL NAVIGATION – A UNIQUE WINDOW INTO MECHANISMS OF COGNITIVE AGEING

Final Report Summary - AGESPACE (SPATIAL NAVIGATION – A UNIQUE WINDOW INTO MECHANISMS OF COGNITIVE AGEING)

In 2014, the Nobel prize in Medicine/Physiology was awarded for the discovery of place and grid cells, two key components of the brain’s navigational system that are particularly vulnerable to age-related neuropathology. Indeed, elderly people often report substantial declines in their sense of direction, which can severely restrict their mobility and affect levels of (physical) activity and social participation.
By exploiting the unique potential of immersive virtual reality and advanced neuroimaging, the AGESPACE project established an ambitious research program that (i) employed spatial navigation as a model system for understanding mechanisms of healthy and pathological ageing, (ii) developed diagnostic tools to improve the assessment of cognitive health in older people, and (iii) implemented technology-based interventions to counteract age-related changes in navigational abilities. As such, AGESPACE has provided the first detailed evidence for how aging affects specific navigational computations and the underlying neural computations. Together, this research has not only significantly advanced our understanding of how human aging affects one of the most fundamental cognitive abilities, but it has also laid the foundation for multiple future research avenues, including, for example, how spatial navigation could be used as a cognitive biomarker for impending cognitive decline in clinical populations.