A specially created video game has harnessed data from nearly 2.5million people, and could help with earlier diagnosis of dementia
To the average person, the Sea Hero Quest video game just seems like any other game you might play on your mobile or tablet to while away the time. It involves steering a tug boat around the arctic, trying to find buoys and hunting sea monsters. The levels get gradually more difficult as you progress.
However, it’s also collecting vital data which scientists at UCL and the University of East Anglia are using to track people’s ability to navigate and remember routes and their special awareness. And this in turn, will hopefully be developed into a test to help spot dementia before other symptoms such as memory loss start to show.
When the game was launched back in May of this year, the researchers claim they were hoping for around 100,000 downloads and people taking part. Instead, they got close to 2.5 million, and from all over the globe, making it the world’s biggest dementia study.
Each time you play the game for a set amount of time, it equates to many more years of dementia research in the laboratory. For example, after playing the game for six minutes you may receive a message telling you that you’ve now contributed to 16 hours of dementia research. So far, people playing the game has created the equivalent of 9,500 years of vital dementia laboratory research – and all in just six months.
Some of the initial findings have found that men tend to have better navigational skills than women, and that people from Nordic countries, such as Sweden or Finland, tend to have the strongest navigational abilities throughout the world.
Dr Hugo Spiers, neuroscientist at UCL who helped lead the study says:
‘We found quite a number of interesting results. For the first time, we’ve seen how spatial and navigational ability changes over the lifespan. The second thing we’ve been able to see is fundamental differences between men and women – how they navigate space. And finally, we can see interesting differences between different nations of the world.
‘We’re just scratching the surface with this first data. What we’ll be doing in the future is looking at more of the information that people shared with us. They gave us more demographic information that can really help profile how people perform spatial navigation, giving us that precision that we really need to help build the diagnostic tools of the future.’
Dr Michael Hornberger, professor of applied dementia research at Norwich Medical School at the University of East Anglia, says:
‘We needed this global benchmark to create for the first time a database of spatial navigation behaviour which would be really important for the diagnosis of dementia. And in the future, this will allow us to personalise much more the diagnosis and treatment.’
The initial findings of the study were presented at the Neuroscience 2016 conference in San Diego.
You can download the game for free from the App Store or the Google Play store. Find out more about the game here.