Researchers from Technological Institute of Buenos Aires (ITBA) developed software to evaluate human spatial memory in relation to the learning process, which could become “a powerful tool for the early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders”.
The study focused on the development of a spatial memory task that is carried out in a virtual computer-assisted environment to evaluate people’s “spatial memories”, that is, the ability to perceive and adjust the position of your body in relation to the environment.
In cognitive psychology and neuroscience, spatial memory is known as the facet of memory responsible for recording information about the environment.
As a result, detailed an ITBA statement, “a new task capable of evaluating spatial memory in humans in an ecological environment was created, which could become a powerful tool for the early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders associated with memory loss. “
The project was carried out by Daniela Ramórez Butavand, professor of the Bioengineering career and Researcher in the Department of Life Sciences at ITBA, and Fabricio Ballarini, director of that area.
Also participating were María Florencia Rodríguez, María Virginia Cifuentes, and Cristian García Bauza, researchers from Conicet of the Magnetized Dense Plasma Laboratory (Pladema) of the National University of the Center of the Province of Buenos Aires.
Likewise, the researcher from the Institute of Cognitive and Translational Neuroscience (INCyT), Pedro Bekinschtein, was part of the study.
The study, published in the scientific journal Behavior Research Methods, sought to develop a tool to investigate spatial strategies that humans develop in order to solve tasks using the context to orient themselves.
Study participants walk through a virtual arena using a joystick, a design similar to the tasks used for animal studies, allowing direct comparison between species.
“We found that only participants who reported using spatial cues to guide their behavior showed significant learning and performed significantly better during a memory test,” the researchers noted.
And they added that having new tasks to assess spatial memory with virtual reality in humans, “is crucial as it provides the opportunity to intervene at an early stage before substantial neuronal death occurs.”
“In the first place, to be able to make parallels between the knowledge that is known in other species in navigation tasks; secondly, it is known that the deficits of spatial orientation are some of the first symptoms that warn about Alzheimer’s disease, and this is associated with damage to the hippocampus (the area of the brain that processes spatial memories), “the researchers emphasized.