Objective: The present study analyzes the age-related differences in map learning between
young and normally-aging young-old and old-old adults in relation to individual visuo-spatial factors to
specify which aspects of spatial learning are susceptible to aging.
Methods: Forty young, 40 young-old and 40 old-old participants performed a series of tasks to assess
their visuo-spatial working memory (VSWM) and visuo-spatial (rotation) abilities, then they studied a
map. To test their recall, they graphically reproduced the map in a freehand drawing, then performed a
sketch map task (which involved placing a list of landmarks on a blank layout of the map) and a pointing
task (adopting aligned and counter-aligned imaginary positions).
Results: The results showed that age-related differences depend on the type of recall task performed: in
the pointing and freehand map-drawing tasks, the young-old and old-old performed worse than the
young adults; but in the sketch map task, the young-old performed as well as the young adults and only
the old-old’s performance was worse than that of the other two age groups. Concerning the role of individual
factors, VSWM and rotation abilities were found strongly involved in the pointing task (especially
for counter-aligned pointing) and the freehand map-drawing task.
Conclusion: Overall, these results suggest that different factors related to spatial (map) learning explain
age-related differences in normal aging. The implications of the present results in normal and pathological
aging, and for the purposes of clinical assessments and interventions, are discussed.