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New smartphone game may help fight dementia

12:05 PM May 06, 2016

Researchers of the neurological disorder dementia have developed a new video game which could potentially detect early diagnostic signs of the disease—by understanding how the brain navigates.

At first glance, Sea Hero Quest is the typical adventure game where players control ships and battle enemies, however, its also reportedly aims to be the biggest source of data about people’s spatial awareness.

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As per reports from The Telegraph, the 3D game is made possible by joint efforts between scientists at University College London, the University of East Anglia, Deutsche Telekom and game designer, Glitchers.

Hilary Evans, the head of Alzheimer’s Research UK, stressed the importance of navigating a 3D environment, since the skill is often one of the first lost by people suffering from dementia.

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“We have never seen anything undertaken in dementia research at this scale before,” she added.

Apart from the scientific value it presents, the app also features an interesting gameplay, where players follow a sailor’s quest to revisit some of his father’s memories and battle fantastical sea creatures along the way.

The routes they take will generate global “heat maps” that will show researchers how people generally explore 3D environments.

The ultimate goal is to develop new diagnostic tests which can detect when somebody’s spatial navigation skills are failing.

Researchers from UCL dementia research center said the game generated useful data about 150 times faster than lab-based experiments, during its first beta release.

“In my research team, I could only test about 200 people a year, and that’s working hard,” the report quoted Dr. Hugo Spiers, from UCL saying. “But last night I tested 200 people in one minute with this game.”

Players will also have the liberty to reveal their gender, age and location to the researchers, although they can choose to take part with complete anonymity.

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“This project provides an unprecedented chance to study how many thousands of people from different countries and cultures navigate space,” added Dr. Spiers. “It’s a massive online citizen science experiment that will give us an idea of what is ‘normal’ through this game”.

The first results of of the research data collection will be made public in November, according to the report.

The app, meanwhile, is free to download for both iOS and Android users. Khristian Ibarrola

TOPICS: dementia, Health, Smartphone, technology, video game
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