Are Visual Cues Helpful for Virtual Spatial Navigation and Spatial Memory in Patients With Mild Cognitive Impairment or Alzheimer’s Disease?

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Objective: To evaluate whether visual cues are helpful for virtual spatial navigation and memory in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Method: 20 patients with AD, 18 patients with MCI and 20 age-matched healthy controls (HC) were included. Participants had to actively reproduce a path that included 5 intersections with one landmark at each intersection that they had seen previously during a learning phase. Three cueing conditions for navigation were offered: salient landmarks, directional arrows and a map. A path without additional visual stimuli served as control condition. Navigation time and number of trajectory mistakes were recorded. Results: With the presence of directional arrows, no significant difference was found between groups concerning the number of trajectory mistakes and navigation time. The number of trajectory mistakes did not differ significantly between patients with AD and patients with MCI on the path with arrows, the path with salient landmarks and the path with a map. There were significant correlations between the number of trajectory mistakes under the arrow condition and executive tests, and between the number of trajectory mistakes under the salient landmark condition and memory tests. Conclusion: Visual cueing such as directional arrows and salient landmarks appears helpful for spatial navigation and memory tasks in patients with AD and patients with MCI. This study opens new research avenues for neuro-rehabilitation, such as the use of augmented reality in real-life settings to support the navigational capabilities of patients with MCI and patients with AD.

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