Saturday 10 December 2016

Playing this smartphone game can help fight dementia

James Titcomb

Published 04/05/2016 | 10:56

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

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Sea Hero Quest, an adventure game in which players control ships and battle enemies, aims to become the world's biggest source of data about people's spatial awareness. Researchers say understanding how people navigate their surroundings is crucial to progress in dementia research.

The game, a joint project between scientists at University College London, the University of East Anglia, Deutsche Telekom and game designer Glitchers, represents an "unprecedented" scale of research, said Hilary Evans, the head of Alzheimer's Research UK said. "We have never seen anything undertaken in dementia research at this scale before," she added.

Sea Hero Quest is free for iOS and Android phones, requiring players to navigate courses to find pieces of a missing map.

Its premise is simple, but the developers behind it say every second of gameplay adds to the anonymised data set used to build up a picture of how we respond to our environment.

The biggest studies of spatial navigation have so far comprised of around 600 people and require painstaking research. In comparison, Sea Hero Quest's developers hope the game will have thousands of players, and say that just two minutes of gameplay equates to five hours of traditional research.

One of the first symptoms of dementia is a loss of spatial awareness, so being able to spot the early signs of the disease will help in fighting it,  the researchers said.

Dementia affects 850,000 people in the UK today, a number that is expected to rise to 2 million by 2050.

"This project provides an unprecedented chance to study how many thousands of people from different countries and cultures navigate space," said Dr Hugo Spiers of UCL and Professor Michael Hornberger of UEA. "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."

Telegraph.co.uk

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