Playing this mobile video game could help fight dementia, say scientists

Researchers have developed a smartphone game that they say will help in a key battle against dementia – understanding how the brain navigates.

The game, called Sea Hero Quest is specifically designed to create the world’s largest sourced data set to improve the understanding of special navigation, in a bid to manage the growing dementia threat.

Sea Hero Quest follows a captain as he tries to recover his father’s lost memories. You navigate the boat but there’s no mini-map within the level, you’re given all the locations to visit at the start of the game.

From memory you then have to find your way to point A, point B and point C followed by heading back to the start.

The way players navigate the 3D levels in Sea Hero Quest will be anonymously tracked and sent to the researchers, who say spending two minutes playing the game on a mobile phone can provide five hours-worth of essential dementia research.

Understanding how people navigate the game’s environments is important because the skill is often one of the first lost by people who have dementia.

Dr Hugo Spiers (UCL) and Professor Michael Hornberger (UEA) who have helped develop the game, said: “This project provides an unprecedented chance to study how many thousands of people from different countries and cultures navigate space.

“This will help shed light on how we use our brain to navigate and aid in future work on diagnostics and drug treatment programmes in dementia research.”

Tim Parry from Alzheimer’s Research UK said Sea Hero Quest is “a positive and far more engaging way to get people involved in dementia research.

“What we know as a charity with research we’ve done of the public is there’s still a huge amount of fatalism about dementia.

“[By playing this game] people can take part in dementia research sitting on the bus or on a train – wherever they might be and give data that makes a difference to our understanding of the condition.”

Despite being potentially preventable in one-third of cases, it’s estimated that someone develops dementia globally every three seconds. In 2015, more than 46 million people were living with dementia worldwide, according to the World Alzheimer Report 2015.

The condition is a collection of symptoms, such as memory loss, difficulties in thinking or problem-solving, and reduced ability to navigate, and is caused by diseases including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

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