Is Losing One's Way a Sign of Cognitive Decay? Topographical Memory Deficit as an Early Marker of Pathological Aging

Maddalena Boccia, Antonella Di Vita, Sofia Diana, Roberta Margiotta, Letizia Imbriano, Lidia Rendace, Alessandra Campanelli, Fabrizia D'Antonio, Alessandro Trebbastoni, Carlo De Lena, Laura Piccardi, Cecilia Guariglia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Spatial navigation tasks reveal small differences between normal and pathological aging and may thus disclose potential neuropsychological predictors of neurodegenerative diseases. The aim of our study was to investigate which navigational skills are compromised in the early phase of pathological aging as well as the extent to which they are compromised. We performed an extensive neuropsychological evaluation based on working memory and learning tasks (i.e., Corsi Block-Tapping Test and Walking Corsi Test) involving both reaching and navigational vista spaces. We also assessed spatial navigation skills in the real world by asking participants to perform route-learning and landmark-recognition tasks. We conducted a cross-sectional study on nineteen patients with a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) who displayed either an isolated memory deficit (single-domain amnestic MCI, MCIsd; N=3) or a memory deficit associated with deficits in other cognitive functions (multi-domain MCI, MCImd; N=16) as well as on nineteen healthy control participants. The groups' performances were compared by means of mixed factorial ANOVA and two-sample t-tests. We found that patients with MCI performed worse than controls, especially when they were required to learn spatial positions within the navigational vista space. Route-learning within the real environment was also impaired whereas landmark-recognition was spared. The same pattern of results emerged in the MCImd subgroup. Moreover, single case analyses on MCIsd patients revealed a dissociation between learning of spatial positions within navigational vista space and within reaching space. These results suggest that topographical learning is compromised in the early phase of MCIsd and MCImd and that spatial navigation tasks may be used to better characterize topographical disorientation in MCI patients as well as for the early diagnosis of pathological aging.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)679-693
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Alzheimer's Disease
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2019


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • environmental navigation
  • mild cognitive impairment
  • topographical memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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