Research during the past two decades has demonstrated an important role of the vestibular system in topographical orientation and memory and the network of neural structures associated with them. Almost all of the supporting data have come from animal or human clinical studies, however. The purpose of the present study was to investigate the link between vestibular function and topographical memory in normal elderly humans. Twenty-five participants aged 70 to 85 years who scored from mildly impaired to normal on the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) received three topographical memory tests: the Camden Topographical Recognition Memory Test (CTMRT), a computerized topographical mental rotation test (TMRT), and a virtual pond maze (VPM). They also received six vestibular or oculomotor tests: optokinetic nystagmus (OKN), visual pursuit (VP), actively generated vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR), the sensory orientation test (SOT) for posture, and two measures of rotational memory (error in degrees, or RM°, and correct directional recognition, or RM→). The only significant bivariate correlations were among the three vestibular measures primarily assessing horizontal canal function (VOR, RM°, and RM→). A multiple regression analysis showed significant relationships between vestibular and demographic predictors and both the TMRT (R = 0.78) and VPM (R = 0.66) measures. The significant relationship between the vestibular and topographical memory measures supports the theory that vestibular loss may contribute to topographical memory impairment in the elderly.
Keywords: Alzheimer disease; elderly; hippocampus; topographical memory; vestibular.