Ecologically Relevant Episodic Memory Assessment Indicates an Attenuated Age-Related Memory Loss – A Virtual Reality Study

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Abstract

Objectives: Since the advent of imaging techniques, the role of the neuropsychological assessment has changed. Questions concerning everyday functionality became primarily important and, thus, ecologically valid neuropsychological assessments are mandatory. Virtual reality (VR) environments might provide a way of implementing immersive cognitive assessments with a higher degree of everyday-life-related cognitive demands. Method: We report on a VR-based episodic memory examination in N = 30 young and N = 18 healthy older adults (HOA) using a kitchen scene. The test procedure was designed to be structurally comparable to clinically used California Verbal Learning Test (CVLT) in terms of repeated learning trials as well as short and long delayed recall measures. Results: The results showed that age-related learning and performance decrements were mainly evident in the CVLT but not in the VR-memory examination. Conclusions: The ecologically valid VR-memory examination might provide a more accurate “age-fair” estimation of everyday-life-related memory demands in HOA than the frequently and clinically used CVLT. We concluded this from our finding of context-related automatic and effortless activations of deeply experience based encoding and retrieval strategies with regard to everyday-life-related objects in the HOA, which might not be paralleled by learning arbitrary word associations.

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