Working Memory, Cues, and Wayfinding in Older Women

Individuals create cognitive maps based on relationships between cues in the environment. Older individuals are often impaired in wayfinding, especially in environments that lack distinctive features. This study examines how working memory ability in older women is related to wayfinding performance in the presence of salient (distinctive, prominent) or nonsalient cues. The degree of salient cue complexity is also examined, thus leading to the hypothesis that salient, complex cues are important in wayfinding and that working memory capacity is related to wayfinding performance. The virtual computer-generated arena is used to test this hypothesis in 20 healthy older women in three different environmental cue conditions varying in salience and complexity. Data analyses indicate that older women perform best in salient cue conditions. A greater working memory capacity is related to improved performance in the nonsalient cue condition. These findings offer preliminary evidence that cue salience is especially important in wayfinding.