The World’s Largest Dementia Experiment – A Video Game
A video game funded by Deutsche Telekom and designed by Glitchers for researchers at University College London is the world’s largest dementia research experiment.
‘Sea Hero Quest’ takes players on an adventure around desert islands and oceans to save an old sailor’s lost memories. Whilst playing the game, player’s sense of direction and navigational ability is tracked, requiring completion of a range of tasks that include navigating through waterways, firing a flare back to base and memorising a sequence of buoys.
Data that has been gathered from the research suggest that sense of direction declines consistently after the teenage years. According to BBC News ‘Players aged 19 were 74% accurate at firing the flare back home, but accuracy fell year by year until it reached 46% at age 75.’
The plan behind the research is to identify dementia in its earliest forms, by noticing patterns of disorientation and lack of memory – both of which are common signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
Hilary Evans, the chief executive of Alzheimer's Research UK, said: "Sadly, we hear all too frequently of people getting lost and being found miles away from home.”
A spokesperson told BBC News "Researchers believe that these problems with spatial navigation could form the basis of a diagnostic test for the early stages of diseases like Alzheimer's, which could add a valuable tool to a clinician's diagnostic armoury.”
The research has allowed for the collection of data from 2.4 million people across the globe, which would have taken 9,400 years if it were to be collected in a lab rather than via the video game. According to Dr Spiers, the collection of this data will allow for a future test to be built that will allow doctors to monitor performance related to Alzheimer’s in drug trials.