Persons with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) have profound impairment in wayfinding, potentially related to a deficit in visual attention and selection of relevant environmental information. This study sought to determine differences in visual attention to salient visual cues and nonsalient cues (building features) in older adults with and without AD during active wayfinding in a large-scale, virtual reality spatial task.
Fifteen subjects (7 with AD and 8 controls without AD) were asked to find their way repeatedly during 10 trials in a virtual simulation of a senior retirement community. Subjects wore eye tracking glasses to capture visual fixations while wayfinding. The least square means (LSMs) and their standard errors (SEs) for percentage of fixations and duration of fixations on salient and nonsalient cues were estimated from the linear mixed effects models and compared by group (AD or control) and cue type.
The group by cue type interaction was significant for both percentage of fixations (F(1, 13) = 6.79, p = 0.02) and duration of fixations (F(1, 13) = 4.87, p = 0.04). The AD group had significantly lower percentages of fixations on salient cues, LSM = 57.91 (SE = 2.44), compared to controls, LSM = 66.40 (SE = 2.19); p = 0.03. Persons with AD had a higher percentage of fixations on building features, LSM = 31.65 (SE = 2.18), than controls, LSM = 24.54 (SE = 1.95); p = 0.02. Shorter durations of fixations on salient cues were experienced by the AD group, LSM = 38.89 (SE = 1.69), than the control group, LSM = 44.69 (SE = 1.55); p = 0.02.
Individuals with AD may have difficulty selecting relevant information for wayfinding as compared to normally aging individuals and attend more frequently than controls to irrelevant information. This may help explain the wayfinding difficulties seen in AD.

© 2020 S. Karger AG, Basel.