Dementia research to be aided by mobile game

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Video games will now be powered up for the more meaningful purpose of serving as an aid in dementia research, than serving as mere entertainment.

Researchers have developed a video game that could help in the development of early diagnostic tests for dementia.

The free game was developed by the charity, researchers from University College London and the University of East Anglia, with the support of communications giant Deutsche Telekom.

“We have never seen anything undertaken in dementia research at this scale before,” said Hilary Evans, chief executive at Alzheimer’s Research UK, one of the organisations involved.

“The largest spatial navigation study to date comprised fewer than 600 volunteers.

“Providing the research community with access to an open-source data set of this nature, at this scale, in such a short period of time is exactly the kind of innovation required to unlock the next breakthrough in dementia research.”

Researchers said that an understanding of how people navigate 3D environments is crucial in understanding dementia, as it is the skill that is often one of the first lost by people who develop dementia.

Faster Data For Dementia Researchers

Under the research undertaken, the researchers will be sent the method in which players navigate the 3D levels in Sea Hero Quest. The players will be tracked anonymously and the data sent to the researchers.

Researchers say the game could help the researchers generate an unprecedented amount of data that will help them in developing the diagnostic tests.

The researchers from UCL said that the game helped them generate data that was about 150 times faster than lab-based experiments.

“In my research team, I could only test about 200 people a year, and that’s working hard,” Dr Hugo Spiers, from UCL, told the BBC.

“But last night I tested 200 people in one minute with this game.”

In the free game developed for the purpose, the players follow a sailor’s search to revisit some of his father’s memories, and to fight sea creatures.

The routes the players take in the game produce global “heat maps” that will depict to the researchers how people generally explore 3D environments.

The researchers hope to finally develop, with the help of the game, new diagnostic tests that can detect when the spatial navigation skills are beginning to diminish, as in the case of Dementia.

The Players can choose whether to reveal their gender, age and location to the researchers or not. They can choose to take part in the game anonymously.

“This project provides an unprecedented chance to study how many thousands of people from different countries and cultures navigate space,” said Dr Spiers.

“It’s a massive online citizen science experiment that will give us an idea of what is ‘normal’ through this game.

“If we tile that information together, we can get a sense of how dementia changes over a lifetime, and other demographic factors.”

However, Dr Spiers emphasised that the game was not itself a test for dementia.

“If you’re worried about your memory or any changes to your health, speak to your GP,” he said.