Executive dysfunction in aging: Are Virtual Reality environments valid within the context of normal aging?
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Webster, Holly E
The objective of the current study was to assess how applicable developments in the use of virtual reality paradigms were in the studying of executive functioning within a normally aging sample. Traditional measures such as the Tower of London task (Shallice, 1982) have been shown to produce mixed findings within a patient sample and as such seem lacking in the sensitivity required to assess mild executive dysfunction predicted in normal aging. Jansari, Agnew, Akesson & Murphy (2004) developed the JAAM paradigm which utilised virtual reality technology to provide a test of executive function which was shown to be highly ecologically valid but also showed implicit standardisation and rigour when testing patients. The present study attempts to apply this paradigm to assess changes in the normally aging population, whereby declines have been observed to be increasingly more mild than in patients and thus require a far more sensitive method of assessment. A within-subjects design was utilised whereby twenty participants constituted the “young” sample (less than 40 years) and twenty participants constituted the “old” sample (over 60 years). Performance was measured on the traditional neuropsychological measure of executive functioning, the Tower of London task and on the V.R. JAAM office task. Three measures of abilities were also administered to the sample assessing speed of processing (Digit Symbol), memory capabilities (Digit Span) and IQ (WASI two subtest). Analysis showed that there were no significant group differences found on the Tower of London task. Yet, overall performance on the JAAM task was significantly worse in the older group in comparison with the younger group; there were also significant differences in performance found on two of the constructs measured. These findings support the use of the V.R. environment utilised in the JAAM office task as an increasingly sensitive measure of mild executive dysfunction in aging in comparison with more traditional methods but notes the context and nature within the task must be carefully assessed to insure it does not serve as bias against older samples.