BACKGROUND: Topographical disorientation (TD) refers to a particular condition which determines the loss of spatial orientation, both in new and familiar environments. TD and spatial memory impairments occur relatively early as effect of cognitive decline in aging, even in prodromal stages of dementia, namely mild cognitive impairment (MCI). AIMS: (a) To show that components linked to the recall of familiar spatial knowledge are relatively spared with respect to the learning of unfamiliar ones in normal aging, while they are not in MCI, and (b) to investigate gender differences for their impact on egocentric and allocentric frames of reference. METHOD: Forty young participants (YC), 40 healthy elderly participants (HE), 40 elderly participants with subjective memory complaints (SMC), and 40 elderly with probable MCI were administered with egocentric and allocentric familiar tasks, based on the map of their hometown, and with egocentric and allocentric unfamiliar tasks, based on new material to be learned. A series of general linear models were used to analyze data. RESULTS: No group differences were found on egocentric task based on familiar information. MCI performed worse than the other groups on allocentric tasks based on familiar information (YC = HE = SMC > MCI). Significant differences emerged between groups on egocentric and allocentric tasks based on unfamiliar spatial information (YC > HE = SMC > MCI). A gender difference was found, favoring men on allocentric unfamiliar task. CONCLUSION: Familiarity of spatial memory traces can represent a protective factor for retrospective components of TD in normal aging. Conversely, using newly learned information for assessment may lead to overestimating TD severity.
- Allocentric spatial frame of reference
- Egocentric spatial frame of reference
- Mild cognitive impairment
- Topographical disorientation