Normal aging and mild Alzheimer's disease (AD) are associated with declines in navigational skills, including allocentric and egocentric representations, cognitive mapping, landmark processing, and spatial memory. These changes, however, are associated with different patterns of structural and functional alterations in the neural network of navigation. In AD, these changes occur in the hippocampus, parahippocampal gyrus, parietal lobe, retrosplenial cortex, prefrontal cortex, and caudate nucleus, whereas in aging, modifications occur mainly in the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. The navigation abilities of patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) have been found to show different performance patterns, depending on their cognitive profiles. Since patients with MCI do not uniformly develop dementia of the Alzheimer type, it is important to identify reliable early cognitive markers of conversion to AD dementia. In this review, we propose that navigation deficits may help distinguish patients at higher risk of developing AD dementia from individuals with normal cognitive aging and those with other neurodegenerative diseases.
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