LAB PHILOSOPHY

As scientists, we have the fantastic opportunity to study an outstanding natural phenomenon that all living entities will go through: aging. Why do we age and how old age manifests itself are questions that animate hundreds if not thousands of laboratories around the world. Our lab does its share by investigating how old age impacts on cognition, from both a fundamental and an applied perspective. The challenge is enormous. Here are a few reasons why: 1) Several factors (social, cultural, economical, biological, etc.) are likely to influence how one will age; 2) Changes associated will old age can be very dramatic (e.g., in persons suffering from dementia) or mild.

Having the opportunity to study older adults is truly unique. Our volunteers dedicate their time to participate in our studies. They come to the lab with a true desire to take part in our scientific endeavors. Not only do they give their best, they also love to share their experiences with the graduate students and the research staff. It is a reciprocal learning experience. This forces us to discover the fundamental meaning of our findings. Studying why and how we age is certainly one of the hottest topics in neuroscience and in social sciences.

With that spirit in mind, our lab promotes team work, high quality science, hard work and plain fun. Science places us always on the edge and invites us to maintain a critical mind.

CURRENT STUDIES(Applied Cognition, Fundamental Processes)

Our research interests fall under the umbrellas of cognitive aging (applied and fundamental) and the neuropsychology of aging. Current research pertains to age-related changes on various cognitive processes such as incidental and intentional learning, memory for content and context, working memory, visuo-spatial processing and divided attention. We cast our investigation within current cognitive and neuropsychological models. We are also investigating how age-related on some of the above cognitive processes can explain the driving performances of older drivers. This achieved by studying young and older drivers in simulated environments.

Applied Cognition

Cognitive load: a window for the study of the older driver, road and vehicle triad.

Understanding the challenges faced by older drivers requires a closer examination of the three main components of the driving triad: 1) the driver, 2) the road, and 3) the vehicle. The three components as well as their interactions will be empirically studied. Because cognitive load assessments reflects the complexity of driving, together with the cognitive capabilities of the driver, this study will allow us : 1) to determine the older drivers' characteristics that are likely to impact on cognitive load; 2) to document the cognitive demands associated with normal and challenging road situations; 3) to assess the impact of vehicle information systems on older driver's behavior and on cognitive load; 4) to examine whether the various assessments of cognitive load express predictive values of driving errors that are superior to other cognitive assessment tools; 5) to examine the relevance of cognitive load for the study of drivers with known cognitive deficits, such as Alzheimer patients.This multisites study is funded by the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation and Candrive.

Improving the safety of brain injured drivers: an examination of their reactions to challenging road situations.

Researchers from Ottawa University recently received funding from the Ottawa University Research Committee to conduct a study on the reactions of traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients to challenging road situations. Driving performance will be studied by means of a driving simulator allowing researchers to manipulate the difficulty of roadway scenarios and measure performance, otherwise impossible in an on-road setting. These performance measures will be correlated with various neuropsychological assessments. This pilot study has the potential to produce new knowledge that will help understand the impact of brain injury on driving behaviour and improve the safety of TBI drivers. This pilot study represents a unique opportunity to form a new scientific collaboration between researchers and health professionals interested in driving issues. This study is in collaboration with the Institute of RehabilitationResearch and Development.

Assessment Of Older Drivers In Simulated High Crash Risk Scenarios

Older and younger adults' driving performance during surprising roadway events (e.g. a child running across the street) were assessed by means of a STISIM driving simulator. In addition, a divided attention was included in which the drivers were required to signal when they noticed a change in the orientation of triangles in the rearview mirrors. Preliminary results suggest that older adults were involved in more crashes than the young adults andwere significantly slower to react to the divided attention task. Their subjective cognitive load was also significantly higher as measured by the NASA TLX.This research has received funding from University of Ottawa. Our laboratory is affiliated with CanDrive

Fundamental Processes

The overarching theme of our fundamental studies concerns how old age influences the various mental mechanisms involved in the processing of visuo-spatial information. It has long been demonstrated that old age impairs the processing of spatial information. Using various methods and tasks, our hope is to pinpoint the cognitive processes that are responsible for age-related visuo-spatial deficits and to identify the brain markers of such deficits. Our investigation comprises a number of empirical approaches: 1) the dissociation between egocentric and allocentric space processing deficits in small scale environments, in computerized tasks as well as in physical and mental imagery tasks; 2) the neuropsychological and cognitive analyses of incidental and intentional learning of spatial positions; the interaction between spatial working memory processes and long term memory processes; 4) the analysis of spatial memory within the framework of contextual memory and binding processes. The previous set of studies is supporter by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

If you are interested in reading more about our work, please consult the reprint section of our Website.