Age-related changes in cognitive performance may be more pronounced in the period near or exceeding the median life span. Therefore, we compared the acquisition of a Morris water escape task by two groups of very old Fischer344 × Brown Norway hybrid rats. The mean age difference between the two groups of rats (a 33- to 34-month-old group versus a 35- to 36-month-old group) was about 2 months. Both groups of rats initially had the same level of performance, but then the younger group learned to escape onto the submerged platform faster, swimming a shorter distance, than the older group. By the fifth acquisition session, the younger rats needed only half the time and swam a shorter distance before they reached the platform than the older rats. These differences in learning were not due to different locomotor abilities as both groups had a similar swimming speed. These results suggest that age-related changes in cognitive performance are indeed more pronounced in the period around the median life span. We also discussed different set-ups to perform cross-sectional age-comparison studies. If there are not sufficient animals from one batch, it may be worthwhile to combine animals from different batches per age group, provided that breeding, rearing, housing, and testing conditions are highly standardized
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